Francis Picabia

Date/place of birth

January 22, 1879, Paris, France

Day/place of death

November 30, 1953, Paris, France

Francis Picabia
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Francis Picabia biography

Francis Picabia did not want to tie himself down as artist; the French painter and graphic artist demonstrated his great talent in many style directions, but earnt particular merit for Dadaism, to which he made an important contribution in its dissemination.

Francis Picabia – Economic independence facilitated an interest in art

François Marie Martinez Picabia was born on 22 January 1879 in Paris. His father worked as an attaché for the Cuban Embassy, whilst his French mother died from tuberculosis when Picabia was only seven years old. At a young age, Picabia was already financing his stamp collection by skilfully making copies of his father’s painting collection – without him knowing – and selling the originals. His early-awakened interest in art led Francis Picabia to the École des arts décoratifs in Paris, the attendance of which he could afford with a clear conscience thanks to his financial independence. On graduation, he took further tuition with the portrait and history painter Fernand Humbert and with Fernand Cormon at his private school Atelier Cormon. Picabia initially painted in the Impressionist style and presented his first pictures in 1903 in the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants, with his first solo exhibition in the Parisian Haussmann gallery in 1905. As early as 1908, however, his paintings exhibited clear influences from Fauvism and Neo-Impressionism which soon led increasingly to a cubist and abstract style of painting. 

Proximity to the Cubists; inspiring sojourn in New York

Francis Picabia remained true to abstract painting until 1920. In 1909, he married the musician and art critic Gabrielle Buffet, producing four children, but the marriage broke down in 1930, and in 1941 he joined the resistance. On a visit to the studio of the painter and graphic artist Jacques Villon he made the acquaintance of a group of illustrious artists, amongst them such resonant names as Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcel Duchamp, Roger de La Fresnaye, Albert Gleizes and Fernand Léger. He belonged to the Puteaux Group, which stood close to Cubism, participated in the Armory Show in New York, and impressed the American gallerist Alfred Stieglitz so much that he gave him a solo exhibition in his gallery 291. When a few members of the Puteaux Group founded the Cubist exhibition community Section d’Or, Francis Picabia was amongst them. His stay in New York was not without consequences for his understanding of art: the pulsing city, always moving, inspired his pictures of the so-called mechanical period, in the course of which he aspired to unite the human and mechanical. 

Dadaism, Surrealism and the return to Impressionism

Francis Picabia had a short affair with the American dancer Isadora Duncan and founded the journal 391 in Barcelona which was dedicated in particular to Dadaism but also absorbed the beginnings of Surrealism. Originally conceived as a joke by Picabia, the project soon took on an a bitter, almost aggressive tone. He swapped ideas with Arthur Cravan, Marie Laurencin and Joan Miró and finally accepted the invitation of the Dada pioneer Tristan Tzara to Zurich. After a temporary passionate commitment to Dadaism, Picabia finally turned to Surrealism, argued publicly with its most important theoretician André Breton, dabbled as an actor in René Clairs’ silent films Ent’acte, and was not moved by the loud public anger. In Paris, he painted his Monstres, couples with distorted faces, and went on to use the effect of layered faces in subsequent works. During the Second World War, Picabia came full circle when he turned again to the Impressionism of his early years. After the war, only his poor health saved him from a trial for collaboration with the German occupiers. 

Francis Picabia died on 30 November 1953 in his birth and hometown of Paris. 

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Francis Picabia Prices

Francis PicabiaPaysage€15.000
Francis PicabiaOhne Titel (Personnages)€8.540
Francis PicabiaJeune Fille€5.445
Francis PicabiaLa petite Zizou€3.808
Francis PicabiaSitzender weiblicher Akt im Profil€3.332

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