Francis Picabia. Conversation II. c. 1922. Watercolor on board, 17 7/8 x 23 7/8" (45.4 x 60.6 cm). Mary Sisler Bequest

“If you want to have clean ideas, change them like shirts.”

Francis Picabia

In 1922, Francis Picabia wrote, “If you want to have clean ideas, change them like shirts.”1 Throughout his audacious and inventive career, which spanned almost 50 years and encompassed painting, performance, poetry, publishing, and film, Picabia lived out that prescription. Although he remains best known as a Dadaist, his work ranged from Impressionist painting to radical abstraction, from iconoclastic provocation to pseudo-classicism, and from photo-based painting to Art Informel. He relished courting controversy, making regular engagements with the press a part of the construction of his artistic persona.

Born in Paris in 1879, Picabia first made his name as a late-coming Impressionist painter in 1905. In the fall of 1912, he exhibited a group of large-scale abstractions, including The Spring and Dances at the Spring [II]. Along with František Kupka’s Amorpha, fugue in two colors and Fernand Léger’s Woman in Blue, Picabia’s canvases marked the arrival of non-objective painting in Paris. This stylistic change was the first of many abrupt reversals that would characterize his career. It also delivered his first major succès de scandale, as critics condemned the new work as “ugly” and “incomprehensible.”

While World War I raged in Europe, Picabia sought exile abroad in New York, Barcelona, and Switzerland. During this time, his activities as a publisher of the journal 391 coincided with the appearance of the machine in his visual work. As in "M’Amenez-y", hard-edged, frontal objects, often copied from scientific magazines and precisely rendered in industrial paints, took center stage. He also began to pepper his compositions with words and phrases. After the war, Picabia returned to Paris, and the Dada movement, led by Tristan Tzara, landed there soon after, inaugurating months of performances, parties, and battles in the press in an all-out assault on the culture of rationality the Dadaists held responsible for the war. Picabia made works like Tableau Rastadada, a mordant self-portrait, finding in Dada a provocative spirit that matched and extended his own.

Picabia continued to cycle through styles and experiment with unorthodox materials. Although he renounced Dada in 1921, certain tenets of that movement persisted in his work, including the appropriation of found imagery: in one of his last stylistic phases, he copied and recombined magazine photographs into new, painted compositions, as in Portrait of a Couple. Throughout, Picabia questioned the meaning and purpose of art even as he practiced it. In 1949, Marcel Duchamp described Picabia’s career as a “kaleidoscopic series of art experiences.”2 Marked by a consistent inconsistency, that career continues to challenge traditional narratives of modernism.

Introduction by Natalie Dupêcher, Museum Research Consortium Fellow, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2016

  1. Francis Picabia, [Handout], 1921, n.p.; translation adjusted from Picabia, I Am a Beautiful Monster: Poetry, Prose, and Provocation, trans. Marc Lowenthal (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2007), 279.

  2. Marcel Duchamp, “Francis Picabia,” in Collection of the Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920 (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, published for the Associates in Fine Arts, 1950), 4.

Wikipedia entry
Francis Picabia (French: [fʁɑ̃sis pikabja]: born Francis-Marie Martinez de Picabia; 22 January 1879 – 30 November 1953) was a French avant-garde painter, writer, filmmaker, magazine publisher, poet, and typographist closely associated with Dada.When considering the many styles that Picabia painted in, observers have described his career as "shape-shifting" or "kaleidoscopic". After experimenting with Impressionism and Pointillism, Picabia became associated with Cubism. His highly abstract planar compositions were colourful and rich in contrasts. He was one of the early major figures of the Dada movement in the United States and in France before denouncing it in 1921. He was later briefly associated with Surrealism, but would soon turn his back on the art establishment.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Picabia is considered one of the most important and influential figures of the Dada movement. He was allied with numerous other modern movements but is perhaps best known for energetically questioning prevailing attitudes about art and for helping to disseminate, through his publications, avant-garde ideas.
Artist, Manufacturer, Writer, Collagist, Genre Artist, Graphic Artist, Painter, Sculptor
Francis Picabia, François Picabia, Francis Marie Martínez Picabia, Francis Martinez de Picabia, Francois Picabia, Francis. Picabia, Francis-Marie Martínez Picabia de la Torre, Francis-Marie Martínez de la Torre, Francis Marie Martinez Picabia, Picabia
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


79 works online



  • Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented, 1918–1939. The Merrill C. Berman Collection at MoMA Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 288 pages
  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Being Modern: Building the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 368 pages
  • Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 376 pages



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