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Les oliviers, effet de soleil aux Martigues

Les oliviers, effet de soleil aux Martigues
signed and dated ‘Picabia 1905’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 3⁄4 x 36 1⁄4 in. (73 x 92 cm.)
Painted in 1905
Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8 March 1909, lot 15.
Mr. Berenth (acquired at the above sale).
Kaplan Gallery, London (1963).
Hilde Gerst Gallery, New York (1970).
Anon. sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 15 June 1979, lot 17.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
W.A. Camfield, B. and P. Calté, C. Clements and A. Pierre, Francis Picabia: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 2014, vol. I, p. 232, no. 218 (illustrated in color, p. 233).
Paris, Galerie Haussmann, Picabia, February 1907, no. 47 (illustrated).
London, The Matthiesen Gallery, Francis Picabia, October-November 1959, p. 5, no. 1 (titled Martigues).

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Lot Essay

In his painting Les oliviers, effet de soleil aux Martigues, Picabia provides a glimpse of the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea, through the branches of exuberant olive trees. Picabia paid careful attention to the visual effects of nature; the entire scene has been rendered golden in the soft, warm glow of a late afternoon sun. In order to convey the subtle movements of blades of grass and the leaves of the olive trees, tousled by the gentle sea breeze, Picabia applied paint with energetic daubs. The rippling surface of the sea, dotted with sailboats, is similarly conveyed with a rich, palpable surface texture, with strokes of blue, turquoise and violet.
Picabia was born in Paris in 1879, the same year as the fourth Impressionist exhibition. The first twenty-five years of Picabia’s life were particularly fertile ones in the Parisian art world; these decades witnessed the rise of several radical, avant-garde artistic movements, including Impressionism, Pointilism, Symbolism and Fauvism. Picabia showed an early inclination towards the arts and briefly studied at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in the capital city. By 1903, he had publicly exhibited his work in the avant-garde exhibitions—the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’automne, among others. In this early phase of his career, Picabia eagerly adapted the vivid color and French landscape subject matter of the Impressionist painters before him, such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
The present work, painted in 1905, was inspired by an earlier trip to the south of France. In September 1902, Picabia and his close friend Georges Pissarro—the third son of the Impressionist Camille Pissarro—traveled to Martigues, a commune on the southern coast of France near the city of Marseilles; they spent several months painting there. Moved by the kaleidoscopic color of the Mediterranean landscape, Picabia began to incorporate brighter pigments into his palette, and to apply them with increasingly free, expressive brushstrokes. Picabia painted scenes of local fishermen and sailboats in the port of Martigues, as well as more remote hillside views—as in Les oliviers, effet de soleil aux Martigues.
Unlike his Impressionist predecessors, who regularly painted en plein air, Picabia often based his landscape compositions on popular printed material, such as postcards, or his own photographs and personal notebook sketches, which he later translated into oil paintings. The present work is likely one such painting, conceived during Picabia’s initial trip to Martigues and completed thereafter in his Parisian studio. This painting was featured in a 1907 Picabia exhibition at the Galerie Haussmann in Paris—the same gallery that had hosted the artist’s first solo exhibition two years earlier. Soon thereafter, Picabia began to experiment with Neo-Impressionism and Cubism—followed by a succession of other radical approaches towards painting, the sheer variety of which would come to define his career.

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