Collection 1880s–1940s

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Francis Picabia. The Spring. Saint Cloud, spring or summer 1912 568

Oil on canvas, 8' 2 1/4" x 8' 2 1/8" (249.6 x 249.3 cm). Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Collection, given by their family. © 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curator, Leah Dickerman: This painting marks the debut of abstraction in Paris. Francis Picabia showed it in the fall of 1912 at the Salon d'Automne. Critics reviled it and called it encrusted linoleum. The scale of this work is the scale of history painting, and it makes great claims for what abstraction might be.

You can see the fractured planes of the work as evoking Picasso's cubism. And yet everything here is done on a gargantuan scale with cruder brushstrokes. And he breaks any real tie to subject matter, something that Picasso always refused to do.

Francis Picabia tells you that he invented abstraction. The story he tells is a good one. He says that he was driving across France to pick up his fiancée, Gabrièle Buffet. He was driving with companions. And they stop at a tavern and have perhaps too much to drink. And after that, they continue on their journey and invent abstraction.

What I think the story suggests is that abstraction is as much about the relationships between people as it is about artists working in different disciplines, looking across at each other's work and borrowing from each other.