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FRANCIS PICABIA

Francis-Marie Martinez de Picabia (22 January, 1879) was a French avant-garde painter, poet and typographer.  After experimenting with Impressionism and Pointillism, Picabia became associated with Cubism. His highly abstract planar compositions were colorful and rich in contrasts. He was one of the spear headers and key figures of the Dada movement in the United States and in France. He was later briefly associated with Surrealism, but would soon turn his back on the art establishment.

Francis Picabia was born in Paris of a French mother and a Cuban father who was an attaché at the Cuban legation in Paris. Picabia studied under Fernand Cormon and others at the École des Arts Decoratifs in the late 1890s.

 

In 1894, Picabia financed his stamp collection by copying a collection of Spanish paintings that belonged to his father, switching the originals for the copies, without his father's knowledge, and selling the originals. Fernand Cormon took him into his academy at 104 Boulevard de Clichy, where Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec had also studied. From the age of 20, he lived by painting; he subsequently inherited money from his deceased mother.

 

In the beginning of his career, from 1903 to 1908, Picabia was influenced by the Impressionist paintings of Alfred Sisley. From 1909, he started to grow interest for those that would soon be called Cubists and later form the Golden Section (Section d'Or).  Around 1911, Picabia joined the artists group named “Puteaux Group” and became friends with artist Marcel Duchamp and close friends with Guillaume Apollinaire and Fernand Léger.

 

From 1913 to 1915 Picabia traveled to New York City several times and took active part in the avant-garde movements, introducing Modern art to America. He was the only member of the Cubist group to personally attend the Armory Show, and Alfred Stieglitz gave him a solo exhibition in 1913 at his gallery 291; “New York studies by Francis Picabia." Picabia stayed in New York for a while in 1915. The magazine 291 had devoted an entire issue to him, he met Man Ray, Gabrielle and Duchamp joined him, drugs and alcohol became a problem and his health declined.

 

Later, in 1916, while in Barcelona and within a small circle of refugee artists that included Robert Delaunay and Sonia Delaunay, he started his well-known Dada periodical 391, modeled on Stieglitz's own periodical. He continued the periodical with the help of Marcel Duchamp in the United States.

 

Back in Paris, Picabia joined his peers, André BretonPaul ÉluardPhilippe Soupault and Louis Aragon and continued his involvement in the Dada movement through 1919. Year when the Surrealist Art movement caught his interest. The same year, Picabia put in an appearance in the René Clair surrealist film Entr'acte, firing a cannon from a rooftop. The film served as an intermission piece for Picabia's avant-garde ballet, Relâche, premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, with music by Erik Satie.

 

In 1922, André Breton relaunched Littérature magazine with cover images by Picabia, to whom he gave carte blanche for each issue. Picabia drew on religious imagery, erotic iconography, and the iconography of games of chance. In the 30s, the artist became a close friend of modern novelist and Art patron, Gertrude Stein.

 

It is later in the early 1940s that Picabia gave a rather surprising turn to his work as he produced a series of paintings based on the nude glamour photos in French "girlie" magazines like Paris Sex-Appeal, in a garish style which appears to subvert traditional, academic nude painting.

 

Francis Picabia died in Paris in 1953 and was interred in the Cimetière de Montmartre.

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