Francis Picabia The Spring Saint Cloud, spring or summer 1912

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 503 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

When confronted by Picabia’s immense canvas The Spring at the 1912 Salon d’Automne in Paris, critics pronounced it “incomprehensible,” “unreadable,” and “a heap of red and black shavings” resembling “encrusted linoleum.” The work’s uneven surface was due in part to the artist’s progressive move towards abstraction as he revised it. Infrared imaging reveals that The Spring began as a painting of three standing, geometric figures, set distinctly against a background. Picabia painted over this original composition, merging the figures and ground. While the terracotta- and gray-toned palette and many planes evoke early Cubism, the painting’s forceful resistance to legibility set Picabia’s work apart.

Gallery label from 2024
Additional text

Picabia painted La Source (The Spring) after taking a long road trip with two friends, the composer Claude Debussy and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, in the summer of 1912. On the way home, as the conversation among the three men turned to the possibilities of nonfigurative art, Picabia had demanded of his more skeptical companions, "Are blue and red unintelligible? Are not the circle and the triangle, volumes and colors, as intelligible as this table?" He began work on La Source soon afterward and showed it that October at an important annual exhibition in Paris, the Salon d’Automne. Also including abstract works by František Kupka and Fernand Leger, that year’s edition of the Salon marked the public debut of abstraction in the city.

La Source invokes the painting of Pablo Picasso in both its Rose Period palette and its fragmented planes, yet its large scale, crude paint handling, and erotic undertones, along with its defiant breach of the figurative tradition, also suggest a parody of Cubism's refinement. Upon seeing La Source, a critic wrote that Picabia had "set the year's record for fantasy" with "ugly" works that "evoke incrusted linoleum."

Gallery label from Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013
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
Object number
© 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Painting and Sculpture

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Provenance Research Project

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1914 - 1915 (?), Francis Picabia, Paris.

[1915, Little Gallery of the Photo Secession, a.k.a. “291” (Alfred Stieglitz & Marius de Zayas), and/or Modern Gallery (Marius de Zayas), New York.]

1915 (?), Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer, Washington, D.C., and Mount Kisco, N.Y., probably acquired from Marius de Zayas.

1974, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired as gift from Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer's family.

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