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|The Picabia Affair, Part II
The Picabia Committee in response to Alain Tarica
For several weeks, M. Tarica, a collector and art dealer based in Geneva and Paris, has been circulating a typed account of about 30 pages intended to undermine the reputation of the members of the Picabia Committee (see "The Picabia Affair," Oct. 16, 2002). It is the last episode to date of a controversy concerning a series of collages owned by Mr. Tarica. He is trying to convince the Committee to attribute these works to the artist Francis Picabia. The Picabia Committee, after having considered the arguments M. Tarica has presented at length, let him know that to the best of its present knowledge the series of collages in question certainly could not be included in the catalogue raisonné of the artist, currently in preparation.
The Picabia Committee was created in 1990 at the initiative of Olga Picabia, the artist's widow, as an "association loi 1901" (a nonprofit organization), and began to function the following year. Its purpose, as defined in its statutes, is to collect archives, documents and all other information concerning the work of Francis Picabia in order to produce a catalogue raisonné of his work. Its present members include:, Laure Montet (granddaughter of the artist), Pierre and Beverley Calté (art dealers), Maria-Lluisa Borràs (former professor at the University of Barcelona), William A. Camfield (Emeritus Professor at Rice University, Houston), Virginia Camfield, and Arnauld Pierre (Maître de conférences at the University of Paris-Sorbonne) [Editor's note: Olga Picabia, who was holder of the "droit moral" and a member of the committee, died on Sept. 23, 2002]. The art historians on the Committee are all authors of books and articles which have advanced our knowledge by documenting and commenting on every aspect of Picabia's work. Each has been called upon to serve as authors, expert advisors or organizers of exhibitions by numerous and often prestigious institutions that recognize the quality of the work they have accomplished over the years.
The Picabia Committee employs methods of historical research, based in part on knowledge of the works themselves, for which a considerable amount of factual information has been collected from direct observation for decades. It is also based on the sources which document these works (the library and archives of the artist, photographic records from the artist's studio, catalogues of old exhibitions, press clippings etc...), and, when necessary, on scientific analysis of the materials used in the artwork. The Committee's objective is to reconstruct as precisely as possible the pedigree of the works and their often chaotic and eventful history. The decision to include or to exclude a work in the catalogue raisonné depends on all of these factors. The task of the Picabia Committee is enormous and difficult, and the possibility of inadvertent error cannot be excluded. For this reason the Committee has always been open to suggestions, comments, and new information which may advance its work.
Disagreements and controversies concerning attribution are frequent in our discipline and sometimes result in conflicting positions. The members of the Picabia Committee believe that all viewpoints are legitimate as long as they are expressed openly, and not in the way Mr. Tarica distributed his "text." In fact, the Committee would not have had direct knowledge of that text if one of the recipients of this pamphlet had not suggested to its author that he would be at fault by not sending it to those personally (and grossly) targeted. His method of circulating accusations in the form of rumor eliminates any possibility for opposing views. For this reason the Picabia Committee presents below its response to Mr. Tarica, following step by step the development of his "demonstration."
First, the Committee requests that M. Tarica guarantee the same distribution for our response as for his own account -- and with the same rapidity and efficiency. Second, the Committee suggests that these two documents be submitted to a professional magazine, which may or may not choose to publish them (this would necessarily imply the exclusion of all abuses, malevolent insinuations and defamatory accusations from which Mr. Tarica's writings are unfortunately not exempt). All this, in order that everyone may have access to all the documents constituting what Mr. Tarica calls "The Picabia Affair," and not only those that serve one personal interpretation.
I. So-Called Fakes Declared Authentic
When Mr. Tarica speaks about "obviously fake works" (section I), he is expressing only his personal impressions, well-founded or not. It is precisely this sort of subjective judgment that the members of the Picabia Committee cannot allow themselves. All their work consists in supporting each judgment on the basis of a rigorous method, in addition to the convictions that every connoisseur is capable of developing as a result of repeated contacts with the work of an artist. This process should exclude recourse to expressions as vague as "It has come to my notice that..." (section I-d), and "There were several other points which made me think that..." (section III-c), which adorn Mr. Tarica's text. We shall come across many others.
a.) The case of Paysage (1909, Mr. Calté's collection)
Mr. Tarica's first attack is concentrated on a colored crayon drawing entitled Paysage, which he declares "obviously "fake," without any evidence to justify his thesis except the use of this adverb. The arguments of the Committee may be accepted for what they are worth but at least they are based on facts:
-- The provenance: Contrary to what Mr. Tarica suggests, this work was not discovered by its present owner, Mr. Calté, but by Mr. Charles Bailly, an art dealer, who purchased it along with a series of similar works from a private owner who acquired them from his family. Mr. Bailly was willing to write a statement, saying: "Accompanied by the owner of these works, Monsieur Gilles Marcque-Coache, I went to see Mrs. Olga Picabia at the end of 1984 (that is to say, well before the existence of the Picabia Committee) to show her several colored crayon drawings from 1909, and drawings from the 'Cormon period' mounted on a board. Mrs. Picabia called the owner's mother, Madame Adèle Coache, who confirmed having had these works in the family for about 40 years."
-- The context of their first appearance: The drawings incriminated by Mr. Tarica were accompanied by drawings from the Cormon period (Picabia's art student years), assembled in a montage similar to another montage of drawings of the same period owned by Olga Picabia.
-- Stylistic analysis: The drawings in colored crayon perfectly resemble other works of this kind already known and previously exhibited. The comparison of signatures corroborates the results of stylistic observation.
-- Scientific analysis : In 1997, Mr. Calté's drawing, particularly attacked by Mr. Tarica, was analysed by Madame Sylvaine Brans, a restorer appointed by the Louvre and the National Museums, and an expert at the Appeals Court of Paris. She demonstrated the absence of all modern material in the colors and the paper of the work and established an age for the work compatible with the date inscribed on it.
It is a fact that in 1985, at a Picabia exhibition in Madrid where several fake Transparences were shown (see below item d), Mrs. Borràs officially rejected this series of drawings which were exhibited there for the first time. The Picabia Committee is not monolithic. It is made up of individuals, each endowed with his or her own capacity for judgment that they must preserve. It is salutary that debate exists and has always existed among its members. However, in view of the evidence cited above, the Picabia Committee, after having recently re-examined the drawing, unanimously concluded in favor of its authenticity. Consequently, it will be included in the catalogue raisonné of the artist.
b.) The case of Composition, 1913.
"The Picabia Committee has never made a protest of any sort about the presence of this picture on the art market," says an offended Mr. Tarica (section 1-b).
As Mr. Tarica reminds us, this work appeared on the market in 1970. At that time, the Picabia Committee did not exist and the youngest of its members was only three years old. The work reappeared at the Enghein auction house in 1989. The Committee still had not been created.
Since the existence of the Committee, its members have not had an occasion to see this work. However, it was known by Mrs. Borràs who refused to include it in her book, then in preparation (published in 1985). Mr. Camfield also examined the work in the late '60s and early '70s and again in 1989, shortly before the sale in Enghein. On that occasion, he told the representatives of the auction house that for the time being he had neither accepted nor rejected the work, considering he did not have enough conclusive evidence. The location of this work is not presently known. It must be reexamined and reevaluated based on updated knowledge.
In any case, we will not be as quick to judge as Mr. Tarica, who seems unaware of the conscientiousness which accompanies historical research, where doubt is a part of ethics.
c.) Other "obviously" fake works
Mr. Tarica points out in the Picabia retrospective at the Belèm Cultural Center, in Portugal, the presence of three works "which are, in (his) view, fakes." Once again, this is a subjective point of view which he never takes the trouble to support.
It so happens that two of the works denounced by Mr. Tarica are examples of the simplest possible authentification, because they come directly from Picabia's atelier which they had never left before this exhibition:
-- Colombe (circa 1924-25, colored pencil and gouache on paper). This work is certainly not the most representative of Picabia's artwork from the mid-'20s. It could have been excluded from a retrospective considering its minor importance, but this does mean it is a "fake."
-- Composition abstraite (circa 1938, gouache on paper). Mr. Tarica's short-sightedness in this case is less understandable because, unlike the previous work which is a unicum and difficult to relate to the known production of the artist, this one belongs to a series of abstract works associated with the movement of Dimensionism. There are several known examples, including one, very similar, owned by Olga Picabia, consisting of interlacings which define color fields. They were most likely made at the request of Picabia's art dealer for an exhibition that never took place, as confirmed in recent research by Christian Derouet (In: Francis Picabia, Lettres à Léonce Rosenberg 1929-1940. N° Hors-série/Archives des Cahiers du Musée National d'Art Moderne, avril 2000, p. 10).
Concerning the third work, Masque en transparence (1925-1928, gouache and diluted oil paint on paper), it was known to Mr. Camfield well before it reappeared on the market via the Waddington Gallery in London and the Drouot-Montaigne auction house, Paris (1994). Mr. Camfield examined the work in the 1970s at the home of Mr. Robert Valette. Mr. Valette had acquired it from Angèle Lévesque, the wife of Jacques-Henri Lévesque, one of Picabia's closest friends since the late '20s, and an editor for Orbes, a review wholly supportive of Picabia, with several texts by and about the artist. There is an inscription on the back of the drawing, most likely in Picabia's handwriting : "Francis Picabia 1925," and, in another hand, the name "A. Lévesque." There is no cause to doubt the authenticity of this work, in its provenance, in the context of its first known appearance, nor its style, typical of the first Transparences which include elements of Catalonian romanesque painting.
Certainly, Mr. Tarica is not expected to be in possession of all of this information, which is the result of a long, assiduous study of Picabia's oeuvre and a systematic search for new data. The Picabia Committee would gladly have shared this information if it could have prevented him from making such quick and hazardous judgments.
d.) The case of Josias
The Picabia Committee does not object to Mr. Tarica's point of view in regard to this so-called Transparence of 1929-1930, for it was after having consulted the Committee that Sotheby's removed the painting from the sale, not on the advice of Mr. Tarica. Usually Sotheby's and Christie's systematically consult the Picabia Committee when works of this artist come into their sales. Time constraints in the organization of auctions and the existence of certificates issued before the creation of the Committee have sometimes produced cases like Josias. Such instances have led the Committee to notify the auction houses concerned that it does not systematically recognize certificates of authenticity issued by the wives of the artist. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Picabia's wives for the precious aid all three have contributed to our research, but we understand that the criteria of historical research was often -- and quite naturally -- foreign to their judgments.
The following statement (section I-d) is simply false and slanderous: "It has come to my notice that it (Josias) was part of a series of four works, all fakes, but nevertheless certified authentic by the widow *" (*in the French version only). The works in question are fake "Transparences," three of which (Jezebel, Sukkot, and Golaad) appeared in the Picabia retrospective in Madrid in 1985 (prior to the existence of the Picabia Committee). Afterwards, Olga Picabia had them seized and destroyed with police intervention, at her own expense.
Regarding this subject, we note that for reasons essentially of cost, the Picabia Committee does not foresee police action of this kind, as is practiced by some title holders of the "droit moral" for other artists.
e.) The case of Femme aux oiseaux
The members of the Picabia Committee do not need Mr. Tarica's revelations to recognize that the drawing Femme aux oiseaux is an obvious fake. Once again, it is not Mr. Tarica's opinion but that of the Committee that Christie's took into account when the auction house removed the work from its sale. The Committee regrets that the work found its way to the market again but it does not always have the means by which to exercise constant vigilance. This is precisely the case of Femme aux oiseaux, which reappeared in an auction of Maître Cornette de Saint-Cyr without notice to the Committee. In any case, the Committee's opinions are of an advisory nature, and a negative statement does not force the seller to cancel the sale. But of course the statement "this work will appear in the Catalogue Raisonné of the artist" cannot be mentioned in the sale catalogue.
Finally, as opposed to Mr. Tarica's slanderous insinuation in the last paragraph of this section (section I-e), Femme aux oiseaux is not and was never owned by any member of the Picabia Committee.
II. The So-Called "Remakes" of Picabia
All of the previous slanderous accusations and ill-founded or gratuitous statements in Mr. Tarica's "demonstration" have no other purpose than to discredit the members of the Picabia Committee, and allow Mr. Tarica to arrive well-armed on the most sensitive terrain -- the series of collages he owns. These collages have been the object of an unrelenting controversy with the Picabia Committee. The objective of Mr. Tarica's preliminary statements has been to condition the reader to believe in the newest theory of all Picabia studies in the last 50 years: according to his theory, Picabia fabricated so-called "remakes" in the style of his earlier works (precisely two decades before).
a.) The case of Voiles (Sails) (1911)
His "demonstration" needed one more proof of the incompetence of the Picabia Committee on questions of dating works. Therefore Mr. Tarica brings up the case of Voiles (Sails), a superb painting from the transitional period which preceded Picabia's evolution towards abstraction, and which was erroneously dated from the late 1930s by Olga Picabia. As stated above, the Picabia Committee has already taken a position regarding certain personal judgments made by the wives or people close to the artist when they are not based on an historical approach. The art historians among the members of the Committee never had a problem with the authenticity of this painting, close in subject and treatment to a work like Les Régates, also from 1911. Voiles is indeed a very beautiful work whose owner must be proud and happy. Without question, it will figure in the catalogue raisonné of the artist. There is no reason whatsoever to engage in polemics over this work.
b.) The case of Les Centimètres (The tape measures) (circa 1924-1925)
Once again, Mr. Tarica's comment about this collage from the mid-'20s starts with an error, intentional or not: the well-known Milanese gallery owner, Mr. Arturo Schwarz, did not buy this work from Olga Picabia, but from the artist Enrico Baj. Olga Picabia had sold it several years before.
Mr. Tarica continues with an imprecise statement quite similar to those we have denounced before: "More than ten years ago, I had the occasion to see it (Les Centimètres), and I realized that the painted surface had been executed with brush strokes that correspond with Picabia's manner of painting in the years 1940-1950" (section II-b). (N.B.: Francis Picabia, who died in 1953, stopped painting in 1951. In the early '40s, he painted figurative works, essentially female nudes, and, after the war, paintings where abstract and primitive motifs coexist.) We therefore find ourselves, according to Mr. Tarica, before an example of a "remake" made by Picabia towards the end of his life.
This hypothesis is perfectly gratuitous. It relies above all on Mr. Tarica's personal impressions before a painted surface which, contrary to his premise, has scarcely any similarity to the works of the late period where he situates Les Centimètres. Any impartial observer can verify this. On the contrary, all the stylistic, technical and material characteristics of the work place it without a doubt among the series of collages that Picabia made in the mid-'20s -- which no Picabia specialist (and not only those on the Picabia Committee) has ever questioned. The presence of Ripolin paint, for instance, is characteristic of the works of this period, not only the collages but also paintings of the series of the Amoureux and Monstres. The way the Ripolin paint has wrinkled in the lower part is also typical of the aging process of this material in other works of the same period.
Nevertheless, Mr. Tarica tries to go beyond his subjective first impression by examining more closely one of the materials used in this collage: the matches. After having consulted a specialist of the Seita (a French tobacco company), he asserts that this type of match was not introduced in France "until the postwar years" (section II-b) (forgetting to specify to which war he was referring, which may in fact be of some relevance). Even if these components dated from the second half of the 1940s, it suffices to look at the work to notice traces of matches which came unglued from their support. It is not impossible to imagine that Picabia, observing the degradation of his work, replaced missing materials with new materials he had at hand. But in any case, restoration does not mean "remake."
Our hypothesis is all the more credible because we know of another example of this way of doing things, and Mr. Tarica uses the same example for his "demonstration" -- but misinterpreting it and coming to false conclusions.
c.) The case of Portrait de Poincaré (1924-1925) becoming Le Beau Charcutier (circa 1934-1935)
The Portrait de Poincaré (1924-1925), is a collage that Picabia considerably modified at a later date. For instance, he superimposed on the face the contours of another face and painted hands on the bust. These elements were added with the same technique used for the Tranparences (circa 1930). Of the old materials glued to the surface of the original work, only traces remain -- with the exception of combs adorning the hair, still present but replaced by a different type, as can be seen by comparing the work in its present state (in the Tate Modern, London) with the archival photograph showing the collage in its original state. Again in this case, one sees that Picabia was not afraid to replace certain elements with their equivalent. As with the matches of Les Centimètres, an analysis of the haircombs would date them later than 1924-1925, which is not sufficient to redate the original work itself. As we saw before, restoration (or replacement) of certain materials or, as in the present case, partial overpainting of the original motif by other motifs does not mean " remake " but restoration and transformation.
When did these transformations occur? According to Mr. Tarica, in the 1940s, for reasons that will later serve to justify his theory dating the "remakes" of the collages at that period. This is a flagrant error: Le Beau Charcutier appears in a photograph of Picabia's studio taken in the summer of 1935, among characteristic works of this period that the artist was going to send to Chicago for an exhibition that took place the following year at the Arts Club. Therefore, the transformations that occurred with the Portrait de Poincaré/Beau Charcutier cannot be dated later than 1935. Mr. Tarica could easily have been aware of this as the photograph in question is well-known. It has been published many times (see for example Album Picabia, p. 85; Camfield, illus. n° 36 ; Borràs, reprod. N° 402).
Another strange feature in Mr. Tarica's "demonstration": In the Portrait de Poincaré (original version, 1924-1926) he indicates himself the presence of a fragment of a flexible seamstress' tape measure, representing the nose in the portrait, that would come from the same tape measure as the fragments found in Les Centimètres, supposedly from the 1940s. Quite rightly, he notes that it is the piece showing the 1-to-12 cm. gradations, precisely the one piece missing from Les Centimètres. Unwittingly, Mr. Tarica provides an additional argument in favor of evidence never contested by any specialist: Les Centimètres and Portrait de Poincaré, which share common material, are certainly two works of the same period -- that is to say the mid-'20s -- and under no circumstances from the 1940s. Thus, the remake theory falls apart.
d.) Other so-called "remakes"
Undoubtedly, Mr. Tarica is aware of the weakness of his theory. This is why, from sliding semantics to sliding semantics, he extends the vague notion of "remake" to all sorts of procedures already known to be used by Picabia, but which cannot be assimilated to what Mr. Tarica abusively calls "remakes."
These are the following procedures:
1.) Restoration or restitution of damaged works, in exceptional cases concerning only works known in their original state by archival photographs.
2.) Partial renewals and alterations. This is precisely the case of Portrait de Poicaré/Beau Charcutier and several other works, like Portrait d'un docteur (circa 1935, reworked circa 1945-1946) or several Espagnoles from the 1920s augmented a few years later by motifs of the Transparences. The Transparences themselves were recycled using more simple motifs when the time had come for a more readable figuration in the middle of the 1930s. In these instances, elements from different periods are placed side by side, and a moderately trained eye can quickly identify them.
3.) Mere re-covering of the entire surface to create a new work. Picabia could be motivated, according to the period, to repaint over existing paintings, either because of the scarcity of room and material or by a wish to obliterate a composition that no longer pleased him. This is the case, for instance, with La feuille de vigne (1922) painted over Les Yeux chauds (1920) or Vase de fleurs (1925-1926, Museum of Modern Art of Paris), recently discovered to have been painted over a nude dated 1909-1910, known from an archival photograph.
None of these procedures deserve the name "remake" that Mr. Tarica attributes to them without differentiation
Moreover, Mr. Tarica owes us precise and sound examples when he leaves us with a statement of this type: "I might even add that other remakes produced by Picabia have been catalogued by the Picabia Committee, reproduced in publications, and exhibited as works executed by Picabia in periods much earlier than their actual execution dates (i.e the 1940s)" (p.12). Otherwise, his statement remains tainted by sheer gratuitousness and the will to harm.
III. The Collages from the Jousseaume-Manoukian-Tarica Series (JMT)
We are here at the heart of the matter. Mr. Tarica's entire theory about "remakes," as fragile as it may be, has no other objective than to convince everyone that the series of collages he owns are actually "remakes" produced in the 1940s, and cannot date from the late 1920s thanks to clues he himself has revealed.
It must be noted that the controversy over these works is not new, and was not invented by the Picabia Committee. It started as soon as the collages appeared on the art market before 1970 (reminder: the Picabia Committee was created in 1990). Some collages became the object of a court case in 1973 (won by the camp of skeptics). The controversy resurged when an attempt was made to exhibit them in the Picabia retrospective in Düsseldorf in 1983 (a failed attempt thanks to the intervention of Olga Picabia. The works were removed and not reproduced in the catalogues published by the institutions where the exhibit toured). The quarrel came up again after the creation of the Picabia Committee when it became evident to Mr. Tarica that his arguments, even though thoroughly explained and carefully examined by the Committee members, were not sufficient to convince them.
"Alain Jousseaume said he had them from Mrs. Lucienne Rosenberg and he made a statement to this effect on March 6, 1973" (section III-d). This statement, as we have already indicated to Mr. Tarica, is untrue and was denied by the interested party herself, while granting Jousseaume the benefit of his good faith. However, the Picabia Committee has in its possession the photographs of seven of the collages of the JMT series. On the back of four of them is a handwritten statement by Lucienne Rosenberg, dated December 15, 1971: "We never owned nor sold this so-called 'Picabia' work." The three others, dated November 29, 1971, express an even stronger rejection: "I never owned this work which I consider a buffoonery unworthy of Picabia's talent. It never belonged to my father." These statements are confirmed on the back of each photograph by another daughter of Léonce Rosenberg, Odette: "This work was never part of the Léonce Rosenberg collection."
This could have been proven in another way: The Léonce Rosenberg archive is kept in the archives of the Musée National d'Art Moderne (Centre Pompidou) where it has been thoroughly studied by Christian Derouet. There is no trace of the JMT series, neither in the profuse photographic archives of the gallery (where every work in the collection was photographed), nor in the remarkably well-kept record books.
The myth of a prestigious provenance, that of Picabia's principal art dealer, falls apart. In fact, no trace exists of these works -- not a single old photograph, not a single mention in a catalogue or letter -- before their sudden and massive appearance, in the late 1960s at Mr. Manoukian's via Mr. Jousseaume.
Note: Considering the huge number of documents illustrating his essay, the Picabia Committee is surprised that Mr. Tarica did not enclose Lucienne and Odette Rosenberg's denial. He knows they exist and have always been available to him.
b.) The case of Pot Potin
Mr. Tarica believes he can save the whole JMT series by focusing on the case of the Pot Potin collage, the center of his attention. Oddly enough, once again, Mr. Tarica gives us evidence that can be used against his own theory:
1.) Mr. Tarica first notices the presence, in the upper right corner, of a glued piece of paper on which figures the typographic inscription: "l'anneau d'or des grands mystiques." This is the title of a book by Emile Baumann published by Bernard Grasset "in the late 1920s" writes Mr. Tarica without any further details -- 1925 to be more precise, which is not the same as the late 1920s. But this approximation becomes necessary in order to prove that the work is a "remake" of the collages and therefore made later. In an even more credible way, this argument could very well have backed up a theory dating this work circa 1925. But this would not fit with other evidence Mr. Tarica has uncovered:
2.) The presence of wavy lines, garters and anatomical details in Pot Potin and other collages of the JMT series links them undoubtedly to an unquestionable work, Rocking Chair, where these motifs are already present in their so-called original state. But Rocking Chair, which belongs to the Transparences series, dates from 1928 at the earliest.
3.) The (gross) pun Pot Potin could find its explanation in an anecdote linked to a conflict between Picabia and Mr. Félix Potin regarding the acquisition of a boat: L'Henriquetta. These events happened in 1930, as shown by Mr. Tarica's skillful investigations with the administrations concerned (with negotiations over the boat).
Thus, investigations conducted by Mr. Tarica himself prove that it is impossible to date this collage in the mid-1920s. Hence, the "remake" theory and a recurring error that we can notice on page 13 of Mr. Tarica's essay and also on pp. 16 and 19. This consists of saying or implying that Mr. Camfield's research on the Picabia collages led him to assert that the Picabia collages (were) all dated "after 1924-1925" (section III-c). This is untrue. Mr. Camfield was the first to establish the correct date of this collage circa 1925 (and not later than 1925), as witnessed in the catalogue of the retrospective he organized for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (p.124 to 127). Depending on the work, the dates usually accepted today vary between 1923 and 1926. This dating is based, for instance, on the example of Lecture, a collage with Ripolin paint quite representative of the series. This work is mentioned in 1926 in the catalogue of the Duchamp sale (n°72) in the list of works produced in Cannes in 1924-25; or the example of Paille et cure-dents (circa 1924), exhibited in May-June at the gallery of Durand-Ruel. Other collages are documented by the correspondence of Jacques Doucet who used to own several of them (Plumes, circa 1923-1925, mentioned in March 1926, Femme aux allumettes no 2, circa 1923-1925, mentioned July 16, 1925; cf. archives of J. Doucet at the Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet, Paris). None of these sources ever had any information about any of the JMT collages series.
In any case, all of Mr. Tarica's comments concerning the connection between these works and Rocking Chair, or between Pot Potin and a "Potin case," deserve to been taken into consideration. There are arguments which could tell in favor of their authenticity, if we admit they could have been produced after 1930. It is these works then that must pass through the sieve of counter-evaluation.
c.) The connection to Rocking Chair (1928)
Mr. Tarica uses the fact that Rocking Chair was almost invisible until recently and "unknown in the traditional literature about Picabia" (section section III-f) to explain that no forger could have produced works using some of its motifs.
However, Mr. Tarica indicates himself that the work appeared in an auction in Amsterdam, in 1958, that it was exhibited in Ixelles and Charleroi in the winter 1961-1962 (at a crucial time, a few years before the JMT series made its appearance), and that it was also reproduced as early as 1951 in the catalogue of an exhibition at the Prinzenhof Museum in Delft. Mr. Camfield adds another reference to this work, reproduced in 1960 in Islas (vol. III, n°1, septembre-décembre 1960, p.202) where it illustrates an article on Picabia by M. Altmann, a personal friend of Gabrielle Buffet who introduced Mr. Camfield to him. (For the further development of this report, it may be useful to notice that Rocking Chair was known in the circle of Gabrielle Buffet's friends). Furthermore, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam had provided Mr. Camfield a photograph of the work as early as 1962. The work had been photographed well before this date, since a photograph of it can be found in the Rosenberg files. It is impossible to know for sure to what extent one or several photographs of the work may have been circulated. In any case, none of this makes Rocking Chair an invisible or unknown work.
Besides, Mr. Tarica signals the reappearance of a lamp-post, already seen in Rocking Chair, in Idées noires, one of the collages of the JMT series. A comparative study of the two lamp-posts leads him to conclude this is "a Morellian signature" permitting identification of Picabia's hand in both cases. The comparison does not reveal the conclusive resemblance with which Mr. Tarica wishes to convince us -- and himself -- (thickness of outlines, heavier in the original, their orientations, details on top of the lamp-post). Second, must we remind him that the art historian Giovanni Morelli (1816-1891), a champion of visual expertise, limited his observations to particular motifs, difficult to execute, like earlobes, fingernails or the shape of fingers. Morelli would never have based his judgment on such a simple and semantically meager motif as the lamp-post from Rocking Chair, a mere element of the decor rapidly executed in the upper left background.
Furthermore, the visual source of Rocking Chair was discovered recently in an erotic postcard from the Belle Epoque (cf. reprod. In : A. Pierre, "Picabia contre le retour à l'ordre," Picabia. Les Nus et la méthode, cat. Exp., Grenoble, Grenoble Museum, 1998, p. 17). There we find the lamp-post and other elements in the backdrop used by the photographer as well as a nude sitting in the rocking chair. Naturally, all the elements from Rocking Chair, scattered throughout the series of collages of the JMT series (regardless of any coherence), have lost the link to their source that Rocking Chair maintains with its postcard. For instance, in the case of Portrait de femme no 2, which we will discuss later, the thick outlines (in the lower part of the face, the neck and the shoulders) alternate light and dark areas. The same detail comes from the thick lines of the rocking chair where Picabia painted light reflections on the curved wood in the same places as in the post-card. This coherent link is obviously lost in the case of Portrait de femme no 2. The person who made these collages seems to have used elements of Rocking Chair in total ignorance of their origin -- quite odd in the hypothesis that this man was Picabia himself.
Once again, the Picabia Committee is surprised not to find this source, already known and published, in the copious annex of Mr. Tarica's essay.
d.) The testimony of Gabrielle Buffet concerning the Potin case
It is to Mr. Tarica's credit that he has presented all the documents that confirm the story about the dispute between Picabia and Mr. Potin concerning the purchase of the boat Henriquetta in 1930. According to him, the confidential nature of the story excludes the possibility that an eventual forger could refer to it via an inscription on the collage. On the contrary, the documents he presents show that the dispute had a certain notoriety. Besides, Mr. Tarica refuses to envision the hypothesis -- even though it is frequent with fakes -- that someone close to the artist could have mentioned the Potin anecdote to a potential forger. This hypothesis should be taken into account, if only for the sake of intellectual honesty or for the sheer pleasure of exhausting all the solutions that may come to mind.
But in fact, Mr. Tarica's documents do not tell us any more than what we already knew from the first version of the Potin episode. That version was related in 1972 at the time of the first great controversy around the JMT collages by Gabrielle Buffet, Picabia's first wife (they divorced in 1930). She explains the whole story with an abundance of details, providing comments which may sound liked an auto-justification: "These allusions in the two paintings, the meaning of which was only known to his closest entourage, confirm their authenticity: it is a procedure we can find in many of Picabia's works." When Mr. Tarica adds, towards the end of his "demonstration" (p. 24 in the French version only) "Therefore the explanation given by the Picabia family of the collage Pot Potin was verified on all grounds," one is tempted to ask: "Really?"
N.B. A simple examination of the facts brings to mind that other pseudo-Dadaist works appeared en masse at the same time as the JMT series in an exhibition consecrated solely to them (Hanover Gallery, London, 1968, accompanied by a catalogue prefaced by Gabrielle Buffet). Like the JMT collages, they provoked a violent controversy, and no one accepts their authenticity today.
For those who are interested, the Picabia Committee has in its archives a report that Mr. Camfield recently furnished the Italian Court of Justice. He points out technical and stylistic similarities between the two series, notably the presence in most of these works of collage elements cut from the texts of publications -- a technique Picabia never used.
Even more astonishing: Mr. Tarica provides the testimony of a person who signs as Gabrièle M. Picabia, who would be the daughter of Gabrielle and Picabia. Neither of the two daughters of Gabrielle and Picabia were named Gabrièle, but Laure and Cécile (dit Jeannine). The couple also had two sons, Vicente and Gabriel, called Pancho. Whatever the case may be, this mysterious person confirms the story of Henriquetta and of Mr. Potin and identifies another witness to that story, Lorenzo Everling, son of Picabia and Germaine Everling, who she pretends is her brother. Mr. Tarica contacted Mr. Everling to obtain the same confirmation. This, in passing, allows us to appreciate the manner in which Mr. Tarica works: He sends Mr. Everling a testimony, already typed and ready to be signed, while granting the possibility "if you like" to "change the wording for more accurate details." (Mr. Tarica to Mr. Everling, Aug. 28, 1998). Evidently, Mr. Everling, notices the deception and answers in a biting manner that he has no sister by the name of Gabrièle or Gabrielle, and that, on the date for the requested testimony, he was not in Cannes but between the Galapagos and Acapulco. Mr. Everling is an officer in the Merchant Marine, and he adds, "I don't like all of this evidence elaborated by Gabrielle Buffet, who everyone knows, peace be with her, was gifted with great intelligence adorned with exaggerated scheming." In conclusion: "In any case, as officer du mérite maritime, I do not wish to participate in any way in the machinations that bring to mind navigation in foggy weather." (Mr. Everling to Mr. Tarica, Sept. 1, 1998)
It goes without saying that Mr. Tarica chose not to include this exchange of letters in the dossier he distributed.
e.) Le procès de Vérone
In 1997 the Picabia Committee denounced the presence of a collage from the JMT series, Portrait de femme no 2, in an exhibition organized by the Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Verona, "Dadaïsme-Dadaïsmes. De Duchamp à Warhol." The Committee was all the more alarmed by the publicity given the work because it was used for the catalogue cover and the posters for the exhibition.
Mr. Camfield received a long letter in excellent French from the museum in response to his request for explanatory information. Mr. Tarica deplores that this letter remains unanswered. Aside from the fact that its aggressive tone and its anonymity (no name on the letterhead; illegible signature) did not deserve an answer, the letter in question shed no new light on Portrait de femme. It consisted primarily of a long list of works, demanding a statement about their authenticity by Mr. Camfield. This list included the colored crayon drawings, the Transparences, and the drawing Colombe, that is to say, the works we have already discussed (pp. 2-4) because they are the same ones that figure on Mr. Tarica's list. The same, minus one: Blomet (1947), a supposed fake that Mr. Tarica accused us of having authenticated. The work disappeared from the list of "obvious" fakes when we indicated to him that it was reproduced in the Album Picabia (p.144). Since then Blomet is no longer on the list of "obvious" fakes that the Committee passed off as authentic.
The resulting court case in Verona has produced actions and expertise that fill three large cartons, available at the Picabia Committee archives. The expertise that the Verona Court requested of Carla Rocca Pellegrini has an important place. She reveals, on the basis of a scientific analysis of the work, the presence of an optical brightener which dates the cardboard ground of the collage after 1945. Contrary to what Mr. Tarica says, the presence of this substance was examined not only with UV (ultraviolet light) but also with a microscope, in the core of the fibers themselves. The analysis also reveals the presence of a glue -- which appeared on the market only after the Second World War -- to attach two elements (the buttons of the eyes) which were glued only once and never restored (i.e. reglued). The expert does not question the presence of objects, for the most part, already available on the market in the 1920s. However, observing that they were undeniably fixed to a more recent cardboard ground, she concluded that the work was not authentic. Therefore it is not the incompetence of the Picabia Committee, its "ignorance about the scientific analysis of artworks," its "inability to correctly interpret the results obtained" (p.27-28) that Mr. Tarica should attack, but the expert named by the Italian Court and of Dr. Herm of the Institut Suisse des Etudes d'Art (Zurich), whose findings were confirmed by Doctor Antonietta Gallone of the Institut de Physique du Politechnico in Milan.
To all of this, Mr. Tarica can oppose only the results of his counter-expert. He had the work re-examined by a laboratory in Grenoble that he undoubtedly believed more reliable. In spite of all the oratorial convolutions with which he surrounds the results of his own investigation, he cannot hide the fact that the Grenoble laboratory came to the same conclusions as the expert solicited by the Italian Court. But all of this is of no importance as Mr. Tarica says, "in any event, I think that this Verona work is a Picabia remake, as, incidentally, are most of the collages in the Jousseaume-Manoukian series" and "because we know that in the 1940s Picabia produced remakes." (section III-g). Here once again, the necessity of the "remake" theory, based as we have seen on so many errors and approximations.
But, it is good to know that the theory of Mr. Tarica has changed over time. The "remake" theory, contrary to his statement in section II, is not any older than the case of the Verona collage. On May 9, 1982, in a meeting with Mr. Camfield in New York, Mr. Tarica said he was still convinced about a 1929 date for the Manoukian collages. On July 20, 1998, he organized a meeting at his Paris apartment which included Mr. Camfield, Mr. Arnauld Pierre, Mrs. Carole Boulbès, Mr. Hourière (restorer at the Musée national d'art moderne). For almost four hours, Mr. Tarica presented his case that no one could question the fact that the (JMT) collages date from the end of the 1920s. Several days later he wrote Mr. Camfield, recalling his discoveries concerning the Henriquetta business: "Of course this contradicts what I think of as the date of execution of the Manoukian collages -- 1927-1928 --, as Rocking-Chair, and he proposed the following interpretation: "Picabia executes L'anneau d'or des grands mystiques in 1927-1928 and in 1929 adds 'Pot-Potin' and the matches because of the events about the Henriquetta." (Mr. Tarica to Mr. Camfield, July 29, 1998). The fact of the matter is that for at least 20 years, as witnessed by his abundant correspondence to Mrs. Borràs and Mr. Camfield, Mr. Tarica has defended no other thesis than that of works actually made at the end of the 1920s -- up until the analyses from Verona, available January 11, 1999, proved to him that the thesis was untenable.
Therefore it is only recently that Mr. Tarica has totally reoriented his thesis to concord with new findings that he could no longer ignore.
A la fin de l'envoi, je touche (Edmond Rostand)The Picabia Committee is not alone. It has existed for a relatively short time and it is far from assembling the entire community of researchers interested in Picabia. A complete list of all of the personalities having taken a position -- publicly or in a legal context -- against the works of the JMT series, not only includes its members, but also other individuals such as MM. Marc Dachy, Marcel Fleiss, Robert Lebel, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Yves Poupard-Lieussou, Michel Sanouillet, Arturo Schwarz, Patrick Waldberg -- that is to say, a great number of specialists of Dada and of Picabia. Another generation is still in the process of formation, and as far as is known, Mmes. Carole Boulbès and Sara Cochran, for example, have not come out in favor of these works in spite of the insistent pressure they, like all of us, have been subjected to by Mr. Tarica. We would like to mention as well that no serious institution or museum has ever taken a position in favor of these works. In particular The Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris preferred to count on the expertise of the Picabia Commitee, as opposed to that of Mr. Tarica, for the Picabia retrospective it is preparing. The only recent exception is that of a minor locality in Verona; who accepted Portrait de femme no 2 for a hodge-podge exhibition and without a scientific basis. The catalogue will not count for much in the annals of research on Dadaism.
But the resulting case will at least have the merit of forcing Mr. Tarica to change his defense strategy for these works. He has been obliged to reconstruct the theory of "remakes" which weakens his position more than helping it.
Editor's note: The Comité Picabia response to Alain Tarica can be found in French at www.picabia.com.