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Francis Picabia - Bords de l'Yonne, effet de soleil

Francis Picabia

Bords de l'Yonne, effet de soleil

Oil on canvas: 18.3(h) x 21.6(w) in / 46.4(h) x 54.9(w) cm
Signed and dated lower right: Picabia 1906;_x000D_ signed, titled and dated on the stretcher

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BY 109



1879 – Paris – 1953


Bords de l’Yonne, effet de soleil


Signed and dated lower right: Picabia 1906;

signed, titled and dated on the stretcher

Oil on canvas: 18 ¼ x 21 5/8 in / 46.4 x 54.9 cm

Frame size: 23 ½ x 26 ¾ in / 59.7 x 67.9 cm



Private collection, Europe, acquired by circa 1960;

Christie’s New York, 7th May 2014, lot 353;

private collection, USA


To be included in the Catalogue Raisonné de l’Oeuvre de Francis Picabia being prepared by the Comité Picabia



Born in Paris in 1879 into a wealthy Franco-Cuban family, Francis Picabia brimmed with confidence and naturally embraced the avant-garde, becoming in later life an exponent of Dada and Surrealism. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Fernand Cormon and attended the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs from 1895 to 1897, but by 1904 had sloughed off the dark palette of academic painting to engage with Impressionism. He was particularly influenced by the work of Camille Pissarro, a political free-thinker constantly open to new artistic influences, and by that of Alfred Sisley, with his intense and highly personal response to nature.  


From 1903 onwards Picabia frequently painted in and around Moret-sur-Loing near Fontainebleau, which was home to Alfred Sisley from 1880 until 1899. This view is of the river Yonne, like the nearby river Loing a left-bank tributary of the Seine. It reflects Picabia’s highly individual interpretation of Impressionism, moving away from observation of nature to a more expressionistic presentation of the truth, in keeping with the trends of the early twentieth century. Picabia depicts the tranquil river, made navigable by locks from the 1840s, and the gently hilly, rich agricultural hinterland. The trees on the far bank are described in vibrant brushstrokes worked wet-in-wet, with deep blue-greens for the shadows, highlights of yellow-green and even skeins of pink and lilac paint to give warmth and harmonize with the pink-tiled farmhouse and the pale field strips. The Yonne, rippling with light, is painted with staccato, dry strokes, while the cloud-flecked sky, typical of the changeable weather of northern France, is treated with richly-impasted dabs of colour. This subtly varied technique gives the picture its dynamism.  


Positioning himself as a student of nature, a free, instinctive painter, Picabia declared: ‘My school is the sky, the countryside, whether desolate or picturesque, the lanes, the valleys, life in the open air. The sun is the great master’[1]. Reviewing Picabia’s hugely successful one-man exhibition at Galerie Haussmann in 1905, the art critic Louis Vauxcelles wrote simply: ‘this painter paints with joy’[2].



1879 – Paris – 1953


Exuberant, extravagant and individualistic, Francis Picabia was one of the most influential artists of the first half of the twentieth century. Born in Paris in 1879 of wealthy Cuban and French parents, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Fernand Cormon and attended the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs from 1895 to 1897.


Picabia’s first works were Impressionist landscapes influenced by Pissarro and Sisley. In 1909 he married the musicologist Gabrielle Buffet (they divorced in 1931), with whom he shared an interest in the avant-garde. Picabia adopted the harmonies of form, colour and movement outlined by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire in his definition of Orphism (1912) and exhibited works with the Section d’Or that year.


In 1913 Picabia exhibited at the Armory Show in New York which introduced the French avant-garde to America. The jazzy rhythms and frenetic pace of New York life were reflected in his dazzling, fractured gouaches, echoing the Futurists’ obsession with modern urban life. Picabia spent the First World War in New York, Barcelona and Switzerland, collaborating with Alfred Steiglitz at his 291 gallery and developing Dada with Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp’s concept of the ‘ready-made’ influenced Picabia’s works in which machine parts express human sexuality, ridiculing bourgeois art and morality. In Barcelona in 1916, Picabia began to publish the magazine 391, which had a decisive influence on Dada in France. From 1919 to 1924 he produced his most seminal Dadaist works in Paris, the butt of public outrage, but applauded by critics such as André Breton. Typically averse to confining himself to one style, he also painted large, pseudo-Classical figure compositions.


In 1925, considering that Dada had become far too mainstream, Picabia used a large inheritance from his uncle, Maurice Davanne, to buy a house at Mougins, near Cannes. He produced a series of Monsters, figures with doubled eyes and quivering outlines, and Transparencies (1927-c.1931), figures transposed onto landscapes and flowers in a mélange of shifting visions. Both mockingly reflect the great tradition of European painting, with motifs from Michelangelo, Titian and Rubens.


In the late 1930s Picabia experimented with abstract painting. His brash Hollywood nudes, produced during the Second World War, have been seen as precursors of Pop Art. In 1940 he married Olga Mohler, the former nanny of his son Lorenzo by his mistress Germaine Everling. They returned to Paris in 1945. Picabia continued to experiment and also to re-explore elements of his previous styles, often overpainting earlier works. He died in Paris on 30th November 1953.


The work of Francis Picabia is represented in the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; Philadephia Museum of Art; Tate, London; the Pompidou Centre, Paris; the Kunsthaus, Zurich and the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid.  


Susan Morris

[1] Quoted in Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, London 1985, p.49.

[2] Quoted in William A Camfield et. al., Francis Picabia Catalogue Raisonné Volume I 1898-1914, Brussels 2014, p.48.