Danseuse de french cancan
Oil on wood
105.4 x 76.5 cm
Hauser & Wirth’s inaugural exhibition at its new premises within the Colnaghi building on Old Bond Street will be paintings by Francis Picabia. The exhibition will focus on Picabia’s shocking nudes from the 1940s.
Picabia’s career was characterised by his irreverent wit and his iconoclastic attitude towards tradition and high art. He famously declared his intention to change his ideas “as often as one would change one’s shirt”. He embraced numerous artistic styles – including Dadaist mechanomorphism, realism and abstraction – in quick succession. Irony, humour and a distrust of artistic movements informed his work throughout his career. Picabia’s interest in the subversive power of eroticism was illustrated by the sexual connotations of his early machine works, then climaxed in the late nudes.
These paintings were created during an intense period in the early 1940s while Picabia was living in the South of France. Embarking once again on a new aesthetic direction, he began to create strikingly colourful paintings that used imagery copied from commercial illustrations. His sources included raunchy magazines, mass-produced erotica, tacky postcards, and trashy photo-novels. The resulting images undermine the prevailing taste for classical elegance. Picabia’s appropriation and reuse of images in different and unexpected combinations resulted in paintings that are highly suggestive. Works such as La brune et la blonde (1941-42) make reference to the tradition of the classical nude in painters such as Corbet or Ingres, ironically reducing it to the level of the vulgar pin-up. Such irony is made explicit by glowing skin, rich red lips, coy glances and suggestively placed poppies. The bright colours, exagerrated glossiness and strong tonal contrasts of these paintings represent an attack on what Picabia saw as the pretensiousness of good taste.
Picabia’s ironic adoption of a superbly kitsch aesthetic for the Nudes also lampoons the seriousness of modern artistic movements. For Picabia, the heroic experimental styles of the early decades of the twentieth century were stale and commonplace. After Dada, Cubist, Surrealist and geometric experimentation, the return to aggressively commercial figuration was intended as a shock and a challenge. Picabia’s work continues to exert a powerful influence on a number of aritsts working today.