Francis Picabia – Idyll (1927)

A playboy that loved women, luxury and fast cars, French artist Francis Picabia was as non-committal in his art as in his personal life. Although he is best known as one of the leading figures of the Dada movement, he was not afraid to experiment or take himself and his art too seriously.

Idyll is part of The Monsters (Les Monstres) series, comprised of paintings created between 1924 and 1927 which depicted lovers theatrically expressing their affection, often inspired by sentimental postcards. Ever the prankster, Picabia makes the couples appear grotesque and ridiculous. Here he has the lovers against a Mediterranean blue background with white sailboats, possibly a reference to the posh French Riviera, where the wealthy and famous would spend their vacations. Err… where Picabia himself would spend his vacations, infatuated with the “empty and sick atmosphere of the casinos”, as he wrote to poet Robert Desnos in 1924.

Francis Picabia - Idyll
Francis Picabia – Idyll (1927), oil and enamel paint on wood

The couple itself is mostly translucent, their skin and clothes taking on the blueness of the sea, which might suggest shallowness and lack of substance. Green and pink dashes add more contrast to an otherwise overwhelming blue, achieving an interesting effect in suggesting light, shadows and dissonance.

The point of focus seems to be the hardest to look at, and that is the woman’s face. With her two sets of eyes, all looking in different directions and her two mouths, it’s challenging to dwell for long on her visage without getting a headache. The man turned to her, holding her hand and head, supposedly looking into her (four) loving eyes, has an intriguing double mark on his face as well, which mimics his profile line. Perhaps it’s an allusion to the social masks that he’s wearing. Overlaid on his back of his head are buildings from the French Riviera, the setting of the couple’s romance.

In the end, Picabia also thought of himself as a “monster”, however endearing, provocative or sarcastic the term may be. In his 1940 poem Baccarat*, he seemed non-apologetic and proud of this self-awarded title.

 

Baccarat

 

I am a beautiful monster

who shares his secrets with the wind.

What I love most in others

is myself.

 

I am a beautiful monster;

I have the sins of virtue for support.

My pollen stains the roses

from New York to Paris.

 

I am a beautiful monster

whose face conceals his countenance.

My senses have only one thought:

a frame without a picture!

 

I am a beautiful monster

with a velodrome for a bed;

transparent cards

populate my dreams.

 

I am a beautiful monster

who sleeps with himself.

There are only seven in the world

and I want to be the biggest.

 

*casino card game

7 thoughts on “Francis Picabia – Idyll (1927)

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