Francis Picabia (1878-1953) Les arbres en fleurs à Villeneuve-sur-Yonne (Painted in 1906)
Lot 17AR
Francis Picabia
(1878-1953)
Les arbres en fleurs à Villeneuve-sur-Yonne
Sold for £605,000 (US$ 820,872) inc. premium

Lot Details
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE FRENCH COLLECTION
Francis Picabia (1878-1953) Les arbres en fleurs à Villeneuve-sur-Yonne (Painted in 1906)
Francis Picabia (1878-1953)
Les arbres en fleurs à Villeneuve-sur-Yonne
signed and dated 'Picabia 1906' (lower right)
oil on canvas
74 x 92.4cm (29 1/8 x 36 3/8in).
Painted in 1906

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    The artist's studio; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8 March 1909, no. 23.
    Private collection, France (acquired at the above sale).
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    Exhibited
    Paris, Galerie Haussmann, Picabia, 1 - 15 February 1907, no. 71.

    Literature
    W. A. Camfield, B. Calté, C. Clements, A. Pierre & P. Caltè, Francis Picabia, Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. I, 1898 - 1914, New Haven & London, 2014, no. 262 (illustrated p. 249).

    While Francis Picabia is most famous for his contribution to the Surrealist movement, his oeuvre covered almost every major artistic movement of the first half of the twentieth century, including Impressionism, of which Les arbres en fleurs à Villeneuve-sur-Yonne is a striking example. A romanticised version of Picabia's first attempt at Impressionism describes how the young artist, who had developed a precocious taste for women and the Parisian nightlife, began an amorous escapade that would lead him into its discovery. Aged just eighteen years old, the passionate Picabia met Madame Orliac, then the mistress of a well-known journalist, with whom he fled to Switzerland in pursuit of a tryst. Inspired by his recent acquaintance with the Pissarro family, the beauty of the Swiss landscape, and in a bid to make money, Picabia sold some landscapes and allegedly started to paint in an Impressionist manner. The reliability of this story is contested and it is more likely that Picabia, who was a student at the Ecole des Art Décoratifs, naturally fell into the movement in 1902-1903, influenced by Monet, Sisley and Pissarro's works which were widely exhibited at Paris's avant-garde galleries. However unclear the beginnings of Picabia's career remain, what is without doubt is that he fully embraced Impressionism's style and characteristics, producing well over 300 canvases from 1903 until 1909.

    Painted in 1906, the present work dates from the period marked by Picabia's eager exploration of the Impressionist technique and is indicative of his wide ranging talent. Often eclipsed by his contribution to the Dada movement, his art from the very beginning of the twentieth century offers a superb display of paintings of the highest quality. As William Camfield explained: 'Picabia's image has been so dominated by his Dada activities that even some friends have found it difficult to believe that he once was an Impressionist. Their surprise notwithstanding, virtually every artist who contributed to 'modern' art during the first decade of the twentieth century passed through an Impressionist or Neo-Impressionist phase early in his career; Picabia is exceptional only in the fact that for him Impressionism was not merely a passing phase but a major period' (W. Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times, New York, 1979, p. 8). Picabia's career was definitively launched when he exhibited at four major salons in 1903: the Salon des indépendants, the Salon de Mai, the Salon d'Automne and the Salon Annuel du Cercle Volney, the combination of which brought him critical praise and financial success.

    Describing a glorious spring day, Les arbres en fleurs à Villeneuve-sur-Yonne has all the elements that convey the immediacy of a work executed in the open air and is an outstanding example of Picabia's newly mastered Impressionist style. Delicate shades of dusty pinks, soft greens and blues dominate the succulent palette, gently contrasting with the maroons and oranges of the earth and stubble to the foreground. The field, which is delineated by a sharp diagonal, starts abruptly at the lower left quadrant, inviting the viewer into the scenery. The eye is then led to the monumental blossoming tree standing at the centre, abounding with white, fluttery blooms - a splendid apotheosis to spring. Yet, while the composition so expertly captures the sensations of a spring-time scene en plein-air, the harmonious configuration, tight formal execution and large format of the work suggest that it was more likely to have been painted in the studio, a technique which distinguished Picabia from his peers: 'in contrast to the original impressionists, Picabia displayed less concern for optical properties and a greater interest in form and composition' (W. Camfield, ibid, p. 9). Sisley's landscapes for example, were almost exclusively painted outdoors so to capture the fleeting atmospheric moments of the day.

    Picabia's own view of Impressionism oscillated between objective and subjective methods, which he explored in three consecutive styles. The first, which dominated the period between 1903 and 1905, was an analytical approach, such as Voyager dans un Paysage, the second from 1906 was more a subjective interpretation of the landscape, such as Villeneuve-sur-Yonne sous la neige, and finally came the more 'experimental' approach, which can also be classified as Neo-Impressionist, from 1908 to 1909, as seen in Soleil du Matin au Bord du Loing. Throughout these varying perspectives Picabia sought to use paint in a way which expressed the mood generated by nature. Discussing Picabia's interpretation of Impressionism, the celebrated art critic L. Roger-Milès wrote: 'Nature presents itself to us with successive and infinitely varied harmonies; one must trap its character in a synthesis both lifelike and expressive... And in order to reveal all of this to us; the landscapist must be one who is moved by feeling; he must 'interpret', not 'copy'; his work must reflect his own sensation, and not just the image of what strikes his retina without a reverberation in his soul' (W. Camfield, ibid., p. 12). Crucially, Picabia did not conceive his art as the literal representation of nature, but rather as his own emotional experience of it.

    Soon, Picabia's formidable artistic appetite led him to move away from the aesthetics of Impressionism. Coinciding with his marriage to Gabrielle Buffet, a music student, Picabia abruptly ended his Impressionist era, breaking relationships with several of the Parisian galleries that helped launch his career. In a dramatic move he auctioned off his Impressionist stock in the sale of more than a hundred paintings, including the present work, at the Hôtel Drouot on 8 March 1909. The sale was a resounding success despite a boycott by angered dealers. Considered among the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Picabia constantly reinvented his work, naturally separating himself from any restrictive edicts. His art skilfully defied categorisation, in many cases anticipating and leading the way for future artists for generations to come.
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