Biography of Francis Picabia (1879-1953)

French painter, forerunner of Dadaism, born in Paris on January 22, 1879. His father, of Spanish origin, was added consular in the French capital. His mother dies still very small and it is educated by his father and his uncle who is curator of the library of Sainte Geneviève. Thanks to the latter, it is known the work of Nietzsche, which will have a capital influence on the intellectual development of the painter. Poor and undisciplined student during his childhood and adolescence, discover the pleasure of drawing, which is engaged with some familiar opposition. His early paintings are landscapes and date back to 1893. At the age of sixteen, his father presents his works to the jury of the Salon of French artists and gets a mention. In 1895 he/she enrolled in school of decorative arts, whose courses follows irregular shape. From 1899 and until 1909 exhibits regularly at official salons: towards 1902 performs works on Spanish themes (women and bullfighters) which will fascinate you with life. About this time is influenced by impressionism through Pisarro and becomes a painter of plein-air, worried about painting light. In 1903 his work starts to be appreciated and in 1905 signs a contract with the art dealer Danthon, that performs, in the Gallery Paris Hausman, an exhibition of landscapes."Impressionism was the umbilical cord that allowed me to deploy the lungs, learn how to swim." (Picabia). In 1906 the State bought some works and exhibits at the Casper' Kunst in Berlin. In 1907 he/she exhibited in Munich and London. From 1908 his works are Fauvist, Cubist, neoimpresionistas elements and other forms of abstraction. In 1910 it locks friendship with Marcel Duchamp and contact the Puteaux group.

In 1912 the artist develops a personal synthesis between Cubism and Fauvism, close his friendship with Apollinaire and participates in the Organization of the exhibition that emerged from the meetings of Puetaux, called the golden section; Here exposes sad figure, Paris and La procession, Seville.

In 1913 he/she participated in the Armory Show New York and frequented in New York avant-garde circles. In that same year it makes his first solo gallery of Alfred Stieglitz. In 1915 begins its Machinist or mecanomorfico, together with Duchamp, promotes and organizes the New York Dada movement. Picabia tried to find, through machines, equivalent to human situations or people, as if they were portraits. Its machinery, unlike that of Léger or Delaunay, who see the symbol of a new era, the machine is developed by an attraction towards forms of the machine and its intrinsic Visual and functional values. In extremely rare land of 1915 painting, a machine, nearly symmetrical and view front stands out against a flat background. As in the great glass of Duchamp, this work can be interpreted as the evocation of sexual intercourse in mechanical terms. This cold vision of the erotic is characteristic of Dada antisentimentales budgets. The work has also been interpreted as the representation of an alchemical process, by layers of gold and silver lining the upper two cylinders respectively. Develops the theme of the machine primarily in the drawings as if they were a printed catalogue, which avoids any aesthetic expression and exposing the the Modern Gallery in New York in 1916.

Between 1916 and 1917, he/she lives in Barcelona, where he/she published the first volume of poetry and the first issue of the magazine 391, elaborated on the model of the 291 Stieglitz newspaper. Begins to develop activities of editor, poet and screenwriter, constituting an important part of his artistic activity until 1924. The magazine appears continuously until 1924. In 1917 returned to New York, where is reunited with his friends Stieglitz, Arensberg, Duchamp, and organizes the famous Conference of Arthur Cravan, in which this naked before the public, finishing in the prison of Sing-Sing, from where comes out thanks to the Aresnberg. He/She published three more issues of 391.

Edtaonisl (Ecelsiastico) (oil on canvas, 1913). Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois, United States)

In subsequent years, Picabia participated in the Dada movement in Zurich, at the invitation of Tzara, and Paris. Highlights of these years Le Monde Double, M'amenez - and and Prenez garde à peinture, considered as typically Dadaist.

In 1921 the Dadaist group begins to disperse it and Picabia separates, disappointed by some members personal ambitions and the tendency of the group to be institutionalized. Separates publicly Dada an article published in the journal Comoedia. In 1920 there were known to Breton, who writes the text for the catalogue of the exhibition of Picabia in Gallery Dalmau Barcelona in 1922; he/she collaborates with drawings and poems in Littérature. In this same year, returned to figurative painting with works such as La nuit espagnole, where two-stroke machines return to its origin as a reflection on the human couple and eroticism. He/She lives on the outskirts of Paris, in Tremblay-sur-Mauldre. In 1923 in the Salon des Indépendants shows three pictures: Ortophone, Volumetre, and Volocelle and receive a substantial inheritance from his uncle.

In 1924, they begin their problems with Breton, who attacked, along with the surrealist group, in the magazine 391. It collaborates closely in the film intermission of René Clair, together with Satie, Duchamp and Man Ray. In 1925 he/she moved to Mougins with his wife and son, where he/she began the construction of the Château de Mai, an extravagant residence designed by himself. During these first years in the French Riviera enjoys an idyllic life that gives a renewed interest in the painting. Begins the series of monsters, which have in common the distortion of shapes that describe the topics, extracted directly from the high society of the Riviera or masterpieces of painting-free versions as well as in Les trois grâces. It also produces some collages as pens for 1924-1925. Invited to his castle to all his friends in Paris (Duchamp, Gabrielle Buffet and children, Man Ray, Picasso, Doucet, René Clair, Paul Eluard, Cocteau, Brancusi, Léger, etc.).

In 1927 he/she starts the period of transparencies and exhibited them at the Yacht Club de Cannes. Pictures are from the superposition of two or more scenes about figures and themes of Spanish environment, in the first, and then on sad and melancholy images that refer to classical art. These works are interpreted as the resurrection of Picabia after the death of Dada: stand out among them Rocking Chair (1928), Jezebel (1928) and Golaad (1928).

In December 1930 made his first exhibition at the Gallery of Léonce Rosenberg, who is its sole dealer. In 1933 began working on a new series of figurative works, which makes (that of Gertrud Stein and Suzy Solidor) portraits and self-portraits. During the 1930s he/she exhibits in galleries in the South of France and Paris. He/She lives on his yacht with his new lover and travels constantly. It organizes festivals in Cannes casino and frequenting the cabarets. In 1938 he/she settled in Paris and exposes the Mediterranean landscapes, which recall some of his earlier Impressionist and Fauvist works. It also makes a number of completely abstract works such as composition of 1939, where weaves together curved shapes with bright colors.

In 1940, faced with the threat of war, he/she settled in Switzerland and produced works that are considered precedent for Pop art the use that makes issues of popular imagery (1941 Torero, the blonde and the brunette of 1942).

In 1945 he/she settled again in Paris, and is related to the artists of the next generation (Hartung, Mathieu, Soulages, etc)., to those providing support. The work of these years is abstract, with anthropomorphic forms, and reminiscent of earlier times, (Le Negateur du Hazard of 1946).

In 1946 takes place in Basel a big exhibition at the Kunsthalle Picabia. Denise René exhibits his work entitled Sur-irrealistas paintings in the gallery. His constant concern about the direction of their activity leads to work with younger artists (Hartung, Wols, Tapié, Mathieu) and exhibited with them in what is considered the first exhibition of the psychic figuration.

In 1949 René Drouin, titled fifty years of pleasure is a major retrospective of his work at the gallery. From 1951 his State of health is delicate and dies on November 30, 1953 in Paris.


Flint, Lucy, the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, New York, 1983.

Francis Picabia, catalog Antologica, Caixa de pensions de Barcelona, 1985.