Surrealist Artist Francis Picabia Was the Ultimate Shapeshifter. Did All That Experimentation Stunt His Market?


Surrealism is obtaining a moment. From the Tate’s global study to the stacked lineup of Surrealist artists in the central exhibition of the 59th Venice Biennale, the early 20th-century motion is having on new importance for artists and curators alike. 

On the market place side, some recalibration is happening as well. Very last week, Sotheby’s held its very first-at any time Surrealism auction in Paris, led by a record-placing Francis Picabia painting. Pavonia (1929) fetched $10.9 million (€10 million), surpassing the late artist’s prior higher of $8.8 million, established in 2013.

The legendary seller Léonce Rosenberg commissioned Picabia to create Pavonia for his Paris condominium (specially, Rosenberg’s wife’s bed room). It was the central panel in a grouping from Picabia’s “Transparences” sequence, for which the artist deployed overlapping imagery to cinematic impact. 

On the heels of this headline-earning sale, we dug into the Artnet Price Database to see how the protean artist’s current market has evolved around the years—and wherever it may perhaps go from here.


The Context

Auction Report: $10.9 million for Pavonia (1929), at Sotheby’s Paris in March 2022

Picabia’s Effectiveness in 2021

Loads bought: 48

Purchased in: 17

Sell-as a result of charge: 65 percent

Ordinary sale cost: $332,302

Indicate estimate: $236,391

Total profits: $16 million

Best portray price: $2.3 million

Most affordable portray selling price: $19,000

Cheapest general price tag: $439, for a smaller stencil print from an version of 300

© 2022 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

© 2022 Artnet Globally Company.

The Appraisal

  1. The Electric power of Transparency. The document-setting painting Pavonia hails from Picabia’s “Transparences” series, which is extensively regarded as his most fascinating. Of the artist’s prime 10 auction price ranges, six are from this overall body of do the job. Picabia designed the “Transparences”—defined by layered imagery drawn from mythology, religion, nature, and philosophy—between 1927 and 1933. 
  2. Regular Source. The quantity of Picabia performs that hit the block every year has remained remarkably regular more than the previous ten years. Because 2011, the range of functions offered every single 12 months has normally hovered in the 80s, with the range of performs sold ranging from 48 to 69.
  3. A Brief-Lived MoMA Bump. In 2016, Picabia’s best yr at auction, his work created $24.9 million. That identical yr, the Museum of Modern day Artwork in New York opened the late artist’s first at any time total-career retrospective. But the MoMA bump did not last. In 2017, Picabia’s overall income fell 25 percent, and the next calendar year, they tumbled a further 25 p.c, to $14 million.  
  4. Considerably less Desire Than You’d Think. Picabia may have some die-really hard admirers, but he attracts less queries in the Artnet Price tag Database than some of his friends. In 2021, the French painter notched 3,120 searches, much less than Guy Ray (3,688), Max Ernst (4,263), and René Magritte (6,374). 
  5. Home to Develop. The two Picabia’s Price Database lookups and his auction price ranges propose that he has a approaches to expand to catch up to his Surrealist brethren. Magritte’s auction history, also set this yr, eclipses Picabia’s at $79.4 million Joan Miró’s sits at $37 million Max Ernst’s is $16.3 million. (It really should be pointed out that Picabia’s best selling price nevertheless eclipses that of female peers like Leonora Carrington and Dorothea Tanning.)


The Base Line

More than the class of his decorated profession, Picabia—who was born wealthy and gained a status as a jokester and a playboy—hopped from Impressionism to Cubism to Dadaism, even dabbling at a single level in Renaissance-model painting. His heterogenous solution attained him admirers in his possess time and beyond, but has hampered his enchantment in the art sector, which prefers crystal clear models and easy definitions. 

Some resources say Picabia’s protean design also tends to make it additional hard to determine fakes, even though his penchant for reusing previous canvases and incorporating previously content into more recent work has made properly courting objects a specifically overwhelming endeavor. The Picabia catalogue raisonné is not still comprehensive, even though new volumes ended up posted in 2016 and 2017.

Picabia is a quintessential artist’s artist: Numerous of his very best is effective are presently in museum collections, and his paintings have been gathered by the likes of painter Julian Schnabel and Calder Foundation chief Sandy Rower. In new yrs, his work has occasionally popped up at art fairs and bought for selling prices in the high 6 and (quite) reduced seven figures. 

Simply because of his slippery style, Picabia is not likely to achieve the identical amount of current market achievements as Magritte or Miró. But for those people who want to possess work by an artist who has influenced generations, and whose stature in artwork history is probable only to increase, Picabia remains a canny decision. 

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