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

Madone et enfant avec nu

Francis Picabia (1879-1953)
Madone et enfant avec nu
signed 'Francis Picabia' (lower right)
oil on canvas
31¾ x 39 3/8 in. (80.6 x 100 cm.)
Painted circa 1935-1936
Private collection, Philadelphia (1957).
Kendall Chew & John Formicola, Philadelphia.
Gerald Fineberg, Boston (acquired from the above, October 1988).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Lot Essay

The Comité Picabia has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

From the early-1930s to the outbreak of the Second World War, Picabia's life was more stable than ever. He renewed a lively relationship with Gertrude Stein, with whom he had lost contact with for seventeen years, and was among the handful of artists that Léonce Rosenberg felt "counted," and therefore gave enormous support. Stein also introduced Picabia to Madame Marie Cuttoli, an influential woman in the artistic and political life of France and director of Galerie Vignon in Paris.

In Picabia's studio at the Château de Mai in the winter of 1935, he completed a distinct group of figurative paintings that were in stark contrast to the multiple layering of imagery of the Transparencies of the 1920s. These works are deliberately simplified, heavily outlined solid images in which transparency is entirely eliminated. In some instances the forms are modeled in light and dark, but for the most part these boldly contoured figures are filled in with bright, flat colors or washed over with a dark, monochromatic blue-green tone. The subject matter was exceptionally varied and consisted of portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, religious and mythological subjects.

The inescapable simplicity of these images was unnerving to the critics, who declared that these paintings were meant to parody the current vogue for naturalism, or to take naïve sources such as primitive German woodcuts, images of sweet girls from fashion or pin-up magazines, and classic insipidities such as Cupids or Venus, and proceed to present them to the public through Picabia's sophisticated brush. Although Picabia's taste for parody was undeniable, his correspondence with Stein and his wife, Olga, during this time makes clear that he considered these significant paintings in their own right, not jokes or mockeries of contemporary naturalistic art.

While Picabia was not necessarily interested in giving his vision of classical mythology or allegories, ancient or modern, he felt a distinct preference for classical art, for its static balance and beauty. Therefore, when he takes the composite image from Botticelli or from Piero, from classical sculpture or the frescos of Pompeii, the style is unmistakably that of Picabia, and in this we can see his imaginative and creative potential. What is most interesting to discover about the present painting is not where the imagery derives from, but rather the plastic interplay forming with them and the new aesthetic language he succeeds in creating.

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