The prodigal son of Dadaism and surrealism, Picabia led the spectacular life of a brilliant dilettante, casting in all directions his poems, paintings, scandals and witticisms. Born of a Spanish father- an attaché at the Cuban Legation- and a French mother, her enrolled in the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1895, and then studied with Pissarro. He became such a skilled impressionist painter that his first exhibition of landscapes, in 1905 at Galerie Haussmann, was a triumph. Breaking his gallery ties, he turned his back on this kind of success to paint Caoutchouc (1909, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris), thus pioneering abstraction a year before Kandinsky. Picabia married Gabrielle Buffet in 1909, and together they traveled through Spain, where the scenery of the Serra Morena provided inspiration for Procession à Séville (1912) and Danse à la source (1912, Philadelphia Museum of Art). In 1912 he met Apollinaire, who gave the name “Orphism” to his painting style that at the time. Picabia’s Orphic period lasted from 1912 to 1915, and is best represented by the paintings Udnie (1913, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris), portraying a female dancer, and Edtaonsi (1913, Art Institute of Chicago). He then moved on to his mechanical period, with imagery based on real or imaginary machines that parodied engineers’ blueprints. In 1917 he founded the review 391 and published his first book of poems, Cinquante-deux miroirs. In 1920, close to Breton and the Littérature group, he impetuously embraced Dadaism, putting up the money for reviews, writing impertinent books- such as Unique Eunuque (1920) and Jésus-Christ rastaquère (1920)-composing collages out of matches, hair curlers and so forth, and making high-gloss paintings. He challenged the budding surrealist movement with his creation “instantéisme” - writing the libretto and making sets for the instantanéiste ballet Relâche, in 1924. Later he participated in the activities of his surrealist friends, though remaining somewhat aloof. Based on his own designs, Picabia built the Château de Mai at Mougins near Grasse, and moved there in 1925. For ten years he was inebriated with luxury, nightclubs, cruising aboard his yacht, L’Horizon, presiding over contests and lavish dinners and organizing the Municipality of Cannes’ memorable festivities, such as La Nuit tatouée and Le Bal des Cannibales. His monsters period of 1922-25, brightly colored figures with four eyes or two mouths, was followed by his transparences period (1927-35), where he painted several motifs overlaid one upon another. In 1936, vacating the Château de Mai, he lived in a bachelor apartment in Paris, then in 1939 went to live with Olga Mohler at Golfe-Juan and began to paint realistic nudes in a conventional style. After the Liberation, he moved back to Paris, and in 1946 exhibited works he described as “sur-irréalistes” at Galerie Denise René. Back in the spotlight with his retrospective, Cinquante ans de plaisir, at Galerie René Drouin in 1949, he continued to create poems and paintings, winning over a younger generation delighted to see in him, in the words of Duchamp, “more than a painter.”
Born 1878 and died 1953 in Paris.