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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection

Sans titre

Sans titre
signed 'Francis Picabia' (lower left)
oil and Ripolin on board
41 x 29 1/4 in. (104.2 x 74.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1925-1927
Sennelier, Paris.
Dr. Brown, Paris (acquired from the above, circa 1950, then by descent).
Galerie 1900-2000, Paris (acquired from the above, 2007).
Private collection, Illinois (acquired from the above, 2007).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 11 October 2017.
W.A. Camfield, B. and P. Calté, C. Clements, A. Pierre and A. Verdier, Francis Picabia: Catalogue raisonné, 1915-1927, Paris, 2016, vol. II, p. 406, no. 920 (illustrated in color, p. 407).


Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist Associate Vice President, Specialist, Co-Head of Day Sale


During the winter of 1924-1925, Francis Picabia embraced a striking new vocabulary of bold colors, vibrant patterns and playful figuration in his art, beginning a series of experimental works that stood in stark contrast to his linear “mechanomorphs” and silhouette paintings of the early 1920s. Dubbed Les Monstres by the artist’s friend and colleague Marcel Duchamp, these radical compositions were intentionally shocking and subversive in their deliberate distortion of popular imagery and traditional subjects—drawing inspiration from the illustrated magazines and postcards Picabia discovered in the South of France, the main thematic trends were lovers, landscapes, and women, captured in familiarly kitsch configurations, which Picabia then transformed through a series of dynamic, colorful contortions and manipulations.
Picabia had relocated to Mougins in the South of France in January 1925, trading in the factionalism of the Parisian art world for the luxurious and laidback atmosphere of the Midi. Renouncing the Dadaists, Surrealists, and the avant-garde circles of Paris, the artist fully embraced his new life on the French Riviera, enjoying the pleasures of daily visits to the beach, the raucous atmosphere of the local casinos, as well as his frequent jaunts along the coast in his prized motor-car. Perched on a hill overlooking Cannes, Picabia’s newly built home, the Château de Mai, became a popular destination for artists, writers and collectors visiting the South of France, from Pablo Picasso to Fernand Léger, Paul Éluard, Gertrude Stein and Jean Cocteau, to Marcel Duchamp and René Clair. Reveling in the sunshine and relaxed climate of his new life in the South of France, Picabia developed a renewed interest in painting, throwing himself headlong into the creation of novel works. “This country which seems … to make some lazy, stimulates me to work,” he wrote to the renowned couturier and collector Jacques Doucet. “I have more and more pleasure in the resumption of painting” (quoted in W.A. Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times, Princeton, 1979, p. 216).
Spending his days in the château’s vast studio, Picabia immersed himself in creating works which appear infused with the heady atmosphere and sunshine of his new surroundings. In Sans titre, painted circa 1925-1927, Picabia presents one of his amorous “Couples,” highly stylized depictions of men and women embracing or kissing, which took their inspiration from contemporary film stills, advertisements, and sentimental postcards sold in abundance in the resorts along the Mediterranean coastline. Repeating the stock poses and narrative elements of these varied sources, Picabia parodies the pop-culture of his day, recasting the amorous figures as mythical, monstrous beings with elongated noses, multiple eyes, and exaggerated, distorted limbs. Here, the young woman clutches a rose and points suggestively towards her lips, while the male character wraps his arms around her shoulders. However, rather than being dressed in the latest fashions, as seen in several other paintings from the Monstres series, their theatrical costumes suggest the pair may represent Pierrot and Columbine, familiar characters from the commedia dell’arte.
At the same time, the forms of the couple are punctuated by a series of ethereal landscape motifs, fragments of images that evoke life along the Mediterranean coast. Sailboats, palm trees, hillside villages, and other landscape elements appear as vignettes within the two figures, dream-like apparitions that seem to anticipate the techniques of Picabia’s so-called “Transparencies,” which hinged upon the superimposition and layering of multiple images within a single composition. Like the Transparencies, these landscape elements most likely had their roots in printed ephemera. Here, the graphic quality of the source imagery is transformed through bold swathes of both oil and Ripolin paint, the vibrant colors and loose, flowing brushwork further blurring the boundaries between the different layers of images.

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