Francis Picabia (1879-1953)
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Francis Picabia (1879-1953)


Francis Picabia (1879-1953)
signed and dated 'Francis Picabia 1936' (lower left)
oil on canvas
41¾ x 35 in. (116 x 89 cm.)
Painted in 1936
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 16 April 1975, lot 73.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
M.L. Borràs, Picabia, Paris, 1985, no. 656, p. 528 (illustrated p. 400, fig. 806).
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

This painting is sold with a photo-certificate from the Comité Picabia.

Painted in 1936, Geminis is one of Francis Picabia's last 'Transparency' paintings. These were an important series of works begun in the late 1920s that drew on the elegant flowing outlines of classical and Renaissance motifs, particularly the figures of Sandro Botticelli and Piero della Francesca, rendered in a sequence of multiple-layered 'transparent' form. Suggestive of multiple meanings and simultaneous realities coexisting in a single space, these intriguing works achieved what Marcel Duchamp described as 'a third dimension without resorting to perspective' (Marcel Duchamp cited in Maria Luisa Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, p. 337).

The multiple layering of imagery in Picabia's Transparenices derived in part from the developments made by the 'Monster' paintings that preceded them as well as from Picabia's collage-like experiments with multiple imagery in films such as René Clair's Entr'acte of 1924. This multi-layering technique allowed Picabia to paint more freely, almost 'automatically', using only intuition as his guide. 'I worked for months and years making use of nature, copying it, he recalled. 'Now it is my nature that I copy, that I try to express. I was once feverish over calculated inventions, now it is my instinct that guides me... these transparencies with their corner of oubliettes permit me to express for myself the resemblance of my interior desires... I want a painting where all my instincts may have a free course... Those who have said... that 'I do not enter the line of account' are right. I take no part in no addition and recount my life to myself alone.' (Francis Picabia, quoted in Introduction to the Exposition Francis Picabia, Chez Léonce Rosenberg, Paris, December 9-31, 1930.)

In this way Picabia's Transparencies became poetic expressions, neither classical, nor modernist, but, like de Chirico's later metaphysics, unique and timeless expressions of a distinctly Mediterranean mystery. Merging the image of a Botticelli-like youth with a landscape and a classical depiction of the Gemini twins, this transparency uses its mixed pictorial metaphors to evoke a compelling mental landscape heavily imbued with an overriding sense of memory. 'It is the past that still has to be explored', Picabia asserted, 'I mean the past in so far as it is mysterious. And the hidden corners of our mystery can only be explored if we are prepared to banish all influence, all hereditary or contemporary convention; good and bad, high and low, curve and straight line, infinite and finite, space and time' (Francis Picabia quoted by Maurice Nadeau, Histoira del Surrealismo, Barcelona, 1972, p. 209)

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