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|The Picabia Affair
by Alain Tarica
Artnet Magazine is pleased to present here a dossier on the Comité Picabia, a group of art dealers and art historians, originally assembled by Olga Picabia, widow of the artist, recently deceased at age 96, who under French law is granted the right to determine issues of authorship regarding works by the Dada artist Francis Picabia (1879-1953). The author of the dossier is Alain Tarica, art collector and former art dealer, who has made it his business to assemble some of the incidents and scandals surrounding the works of Picabia that have irked the art community for years. The charges contained therein, which question the competency and impartiality of the committee in several ways, are explosive. We present them publicly in the interest of opening the debate to interested parties. And the discussion will continue, for the Comité Picabia has prepared a response that will soon be presented here as well.
-- the editorsIntroduction
The purpose of this short essay is to try an shed a little light on the hotch-potch of attributions of works to Francis Picabia, and their respective dating (when fakes are not involved).
It is not possible to list all the problems which have today become part and parcel of the corpus of Picabia's oeuvre without mentioning the attitude of the members of the Picabia Committee. The main members of the Picabia Committee, since its foundation, have been: Mrs. Olga Picabia, the artist's last wife; Mr. Pierre Calté, picture dealer; Mrs. Beverley Goldberg, his wife; Mr. William Camfield, professor of art history at Rice University in Texas; Mrs. Maria Lluïsa Borràs, member of the Miró Foundation in Barcelona; and, more recently, Mr. Arnauld Pierre, professor of art history at Bordeaux University.
As we shall see, there have been many fakes over the years, along with unforgivable dating and attribution errors, and even worse: genuine works have been declared fakes!
Yet the aim of this Picabia Committee is, inter alia, to classify, authenticate and publish a Catalogue Raisonné or Complete Annotated Catalogue of Picabia's works.
I. Fake paintings declared genuine
For more than 15 years now, obviously forged works have been cropping up at public auctions and sales, and in Picabia retrospectives; these works have nevertheless been certified as genuine, or accepted as such by the Picabia committee, and thus by all its members (since on no official occasion has any of them ever been against their dissemination among the public).
Although a certain number of these fakes have been exhibited in Picabia retrospectives, organized by the Picabia committee, it is only now that Mr. Camfield and Mrs. Borràs are refusing to make pronouncements about their possible authenticity, as we shall see in due course.
The following list of fakes is not exhaustive, but it does contain several works belonging to different periods in the artist's life.
a) Fakes, presumed from 1909-1910
About 15 years ago, there appeared on the market at least six or seven colored pencil drawings signed "Picabia," all presumed to be dated 1909-1910. I came across them at that time in a Picabia exhibition organized by an Italian gallery at its FIAC stand. I warned the gallery owner that, in my view, they were all fakes and he told me that they were the property of Mr. Calté, an eminent member of the Picabia Committee since its founding. Subsequently, these colored pencil drawings featured in various Picabia retrospectives. One of them, for example, titled Paysage/Landscape (1909) (cf. reproduction no. 1 in the Appendix), featured in many exhibitions (1).
This colored pencil drawing is indeed owned by Mr. Calté, as is shown by the fax from Mrs. Rita Lougares dated 26 October 1998 (cf. reproduction no. 2 in the Appendix) (2).
In 1999, during a discussion with Mr. Camfield, I told him (in no uncertain terms) that all these colored pencil drawings were fakes. He said they would all be closely looked at. Since then, I have never seen them on show in Picabia exhibitions. In any event, a certain number of works in that series have been sold by Mr. Calté, member of the Picabia committee, and none of the committee members has ever come to the fore when they have been exhibited over the past 15 years.
b) Fake, presumed from 1913
c) Fakes, presumed of 1924, 1925-1928, 1938
I have known all these works and other forged Picabias, which have been included in various Picabia retrospectives, organized in museums by the Picabia committee.
I warned Mr. Camfield and Mrs. Borràs that the above-mentioned works were fakes; the Verona museum which wrote to both the above persons to ask each one of them for their opinion about some of these works (letter from myself of 29 July 1997, letter from the Galeria d'Arte Moderna, Palazzo Forti, Verona, of 7 August 1997, of 20 August 1997, of 28 August 1997) has never received any response (cf. reproductions 7, 8, 9 of the letters in the Appendix).
d) Fake, presumed of 1929-1930
It has come to my notice that it was part of a series of four works, all fakes, but nevertheless certified authentic. I have not personally seen the other three works.
e) "1929-1930: fake, cropping up here, there and everywhere
This work cropped up again on sale at Christie's of London, lot no. 259, on 2 July 1998, complete with provenance and bibliography (cf. reproduction no. 12 in the Appendix).
During a discussion with the director of the department of modern paintings at Christie's, I warned him that this work was a fake, and that he would be well-advised to tell Mr. Camfield that I was of the opinion that this work was a fake, and I urged him (in no uncertain terms) to obtain a written opinion from him. Mr. Camfield must have corroborated my opinion because Christie's withdrew that work from the sale (cf. reproduction no. 13 in the Appendix). I would remind you that Mr. Camfield is an eminent member of the Picabia committee. And yet immediately thereafter, on 10 October 1998, the work resurfaced for sale in Paris, at Maïtre Cornette of Saint-Cyr (cf. reproduction no. 14 in the Appendix), reproduced in the catalogue under no. 5. (4). There is cause to wonder about the fact that the committee let this work reappear on the market, for public sale by auction in Paris, without opposing the sale in any way -- a work reproduced in the catalogue, that had been withdrawn from a major auction sale at Christie's of London, three months earlier, for reasons of authenticity.
We shall conclude this chapter on fakes declared genuine, or accepted as genuine by the Picabia committee, at this junction -- fakes, incidentally, sold on the market, at times by members of the committee. But let me say again that this list of fakes is not exhaustive -- far from it.
II. Remakes not seen, whence glaring dating errors
a) The painting "Sails"
Before coming to a much more conspicuous dating error, because of its implications (namely, genuine works declared as fakes), let me reproduce the following document (cf. reproduction no. 18 in the Appendix), in which Mrs. Olga Picabia admits her poor knowledge of Picabia's oeuvre in the 1920-1924 period. But as the facts above-mentioned, and those that will not follow, demonstrate, it is not only the 1920-1924 period about which Mrs. Olga Picabia and other members of the Picabia committee have shown themselves to be incompetent.
b) The famous collage Les Centimètres/The Tape Measure
The painting titled Les Centimètres, oil and collages on canvas, measuring 59 x 39 cm (cf. reproduction no. 19 in the Appendix) was purchased by Arturo Schwarz in the early 1960s, directly from Olga Picabia. She sold it to him as a work that had been produced in about 1920 (6) and it was reproduced with his dating (ca. 1920), in all publications and catalogues until, in September 1970, Mr. Camfield published it as dating from 1924-1925, and Mr. Schwarz lived for 40 years with this work, quite sure that it was from the Dada period. More than 10 years ago, I had occasion to see it, and I realized that the painted surface had been executed with Picabia's brush strokes that corresponded with his manner of painting in the 1940-1950 period. This manner of painting was quite different from his style in the 1920s. I said nothing because, at the outset, I didn't think I could prove that crude dating error; in addition, I thought that nobody on the Picabia committee would have the expertise to see that difference in pictorial execution, or the moral honesty to admit the mistake.
Subsequently, in 1997, because of genuine works but ones declared to be fakes by the committee, which, as it happens, are collages, I was keen to try and demonstrate that the work, Les Centimètres, had indeed been produced in the 1940s, and not during the Dada period (7).
I thought that if the painted surface had been executed after the Second World War, it was possible that the matches featuring on that collage might show that they dated from the 1940s. So I went to see the director of the Seita Museum in Paris, and she gave me the name of their match expert, Mr. Marcel Krier, to whom I sent a large ektachrome of the collage (which was then featuring in an exhibition at Trento in Italy). On that ektachrome he pointed out to me that the matches were flat, that the non-sulphured end showed a bevel, and that they accordingly came from cardboard books, and that they were torn off one by one, whence the beveled, scored end. Those matches had not been introduced into France until the postwar years and he sent me various models of them (cf. reproduction no. 20 in the Appendix), so that I could make comparisons with those featuring on the Schwarz painting, comparisons which I duly made in situ, and which confirmed my dating of the painted surface.
c) What can be deduced from the "Centimètres" collage
The three pieces of tape measure which feature in the Schwarz work must have been retrieved by Picabia from another collage previously made in about 1925-1930 and probably damaged. In effect the piece of flexible seamstress's tape measure, showing the 1-12 gradations, featured in a Picabia collage titled Portrait de Poincaré, dated 1927-1928, in which the nose featured (cf. reproduction no. 21 in the Appendix).
The fact is that this Portrait de Poincaré was totally repainted and altered by Picabia in about 1940, and turned into a quite different composition, in which he changed the different collages, and which, today, is titled Le Beau Charcutier/The Handsome Pork Butcher (London, Tate Modern) (8) (cf. reproduction no. 22 in the Appendix). The three bits of tape measure come from the same flexible seamstress's measure as the piece that featured in the Portrait de Poincaré because the gradations are sequential. If the three pieces had not been used by Picabia before the Second World War in another work, there would be no chance of finding them today in the Schwarz painting, given all the many house moves and tribulations in Picabia's life; these three bits of tape measure would have been lost if they had not been used by Picabia in one or more works, dating from the same period as the Portrait de Poincaré.
Just as Picabia re-used the Portrait de Poincaré to turn it into a very different work (Le Beau Charcutier), so he also reused different collage components (the three bits of tape measure, the matchboxes) to make a new work in the 1940s, Mr. Schwarz's Les Centimètres/The Tape Measures.
d) Other examples of remakes and transformations of works by Picabia
e) Other remakes as yet unidentified by any members of the Picabia Committee
I shall skip over errors of attribution made by the Picabia committee (errors quite different from those aforementioned). If I have dwelt at some length on the Schwarz collage, this will now segue quite naturally into chapter three, the worst of all, ethically speaking: genuine works declared to be fakes.
III Genuine works declared to be fakes
Before 1970 there appeared on the market at Mr. Manoukian's premises 11 collages and gouaches executed on card or paper. Of these collages we shall reproduce here Barbette (on card, 65 x 54 cm) (cf. reproduction no. 23 in the Appendix), Pot Potin (13) (on card, 48 x 40 cm) (cf. reproduction no. 24 in the Appendix), Idées noires (on paper, 39 x 29 cm) (cf. reproduction no. 25 in the Appendix), Portrait de femme aux allumettes no 1 (on card, 38 x 37 cm) (cf. reproduction no. 26 in the Appendix) and Portrait de femme no 2 (on card) (cf. reproduction no. 27 in the Appendix). These works were unknown and had never been reproduced before they turned up with Mr. Manoukian. This date of 1970 is important because all the conventionally known collages by Picabia, which had been published up until September 1970 had been deemed to be works from Picabia's Dada period, and dated in all publications as having been produced in about 1920. For the first time, in the catalogue for the Picabia retrospective at the New York Guggenheim Museum, in September 1970, Mr. Canfield correctly dated the collages, that is, those that were conventionally known as being by Picabia, with all of them coming after the date 1924-1925. These works turned up with Mr. Manoukian in 1967-68 and he sold some of them in 1969-1970 to Mr. Michel Périnet, a Parisian collector. I subsequently bought them from him. So all these collages had been sold to Manoukian by Mr. Alain Jousseaume, who was very close to Mrs. Lucienne Rosenberg (daughter of Léonce Rosenberg, Picabia's dealer, before the Second World War), and would so remain from the 1950s until her death in the 1990s.
Alain Jousseaume said that he had had them from Mrs. Lucienne Rosenberg and he made a statement to this effect on 6 March 1973 (cf. reproduction no. 28 in the Appendix). When these 11 collages (cf. note 14) appeared between 1967 and 1968 with Mr. Manoukian, Mr. Périnet asked for and obtained (before purchasing these works) certificates from Picabia's three "widows," namely: Mrs. Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, Mrs. Germaine Everling, and Mrs. Olga Picabia.
It was on that occasion that these works came to the notice of a Parisian dealer, Mr. André François Petit, now deceased, and Mrs. Collinet, a dealer who was retired at the time, and is now also deceased. On 29 November 1971, Lucienne Rosenberg wrote to Mr. Petit at his request to tell him that she had never had any Picabia collages (cf. reproduction no. 29 in the Appendix). Subsequently, in 1972, legal proceedings involving one of these works, Pot Potin, had been initiated by Mr. Périnet against Mrs. Collinet, Mr. Petit and Mr. Schwarz, and Mrs. Lucienne Rosenberg provided a letter to explain that she had known "Mr. Alain Jousseaume very well since 1956" and that she regarded him as "a thoroughly well-intentioned person, and I see no reason to doubt his word" (cf. reproduction no. 30 in the Appendix). She also explained in this letter that she had left her father's gallery in 1933, "shortly after Léonce Rosenberg became Picabia's exclusive dealer." Mrs. Lucienne Rosenberg wrote that letter to Mr. Alain Jousseaume so that it would feature among the evidence submitted at the 1973 trial concerning Pot Potin. It should also be added that Léonce Rosenberg's will (he died before 1950) had been hotly contested and the source of many quarrels between the dealer's three daughters. In the end, before her death, Mrs. Lucienne Rosenberg gave all the archives of the Léonce Rosenberg gallery, of which she was the sole owner, to Alain Jousseaume, who sold them to the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, three or four years ago.
b) Pot Potin goes up for auction with Maître Loudmer
In 1969, Mr. Petit and Mrs. Collinet had started to spread rumors that these collages were fakes, and Mr. Perinet decided to put one of his collages, Pot Potin, up for auction with Maître Loudmer. The sale was planned for 27 May 1972 at 9 p.m. (cf. reproduction no. 31 in the Appendix). On 16 May 1972, a petition declaring that this collage was a fake was sent to Maître Loudmer to stop him going ahead with the sale (cf. reproduction no. 32 in the Appendix). It was signed by Mrs. Collinet, Mr. Poupard-Lieussou, Olga Picabia (15), Mr. Petit, and Mr. Arturo Schwarz, and the names of Mr. Robert Lebel, Bill Camfield (16) and Michel Sanouillet were added by hand. Michel Sanouillet, Mr. Poupard-Lieussou and Mr. Robert Lebel had each written and published about Dada and the Dadaists.
In another respect, there was favorable testimony about the authenticity of these collages, including statements by Louis Aragon (cf. reproduction no. 33 in the Appendix), and Mrs. Germaine Everling (cf. reproduction no. 34 in the Appendix), who both declared that they had known the work titled Barbette, as well as by Henri Goetz (cf. reproduction no. 35 in the Appendix), a painter who was a very close friend of Picabia.
c) Initial findings on the Jousseaume-Manoukian collages
Given the objection raised by Mr. Petit and Mrs. Collinet, now joined by Mr. Arturo Schwarz, I undertook some documentary research. The first thing that struck me was that, stylistically, the painted parts of these different works referred to a dating later than 1925 with Picabia. What was more, the collage Pot Potin includes, at top right, a scrap of printed, glued paper on which figures the inscription "l'anneau d'or des grands mystiques." After a little research, I ascertained that this inscription refers to a book written by Emile Baumann, titled L'anneau d'or des grands mystiques, published in Paris by Bernard Grasset in the late 1920s. Now, these 11 collages were sold by Jousseaume to Manoukian in 1967-68, thus at a moment when Picabia's collages were regarded, in all the literature, as dating back to the 1920s. It was not until September 1970 that the correct dating of the Picabia collages was published for the first time by Mr. Camfield, in other words, a dating later than 1924-1925. So if the Jousseaume-Manoukian collages were fakes, the forger would have been one step ahead of art history (17), because from 1967-1968, the date of their first appearance on the market, they indicated by certain stylistic elements, and by the glued paper with "l'anneau d'or des grands mystiques," a date of 1927-1928, a dating which would not be shown to be accurate for the Picabia collages until after September 1970.
During my documentary research, I discovered that for the exhibition devoted to the collages at the Goemans Gallery in April 1930, Louis Aragon had written in the preface to the catalogue that Picabia had used safety pins in his collages (cf. reproduction no. 36 in the Appendix). Mrs. Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia moreover published an article titled Matières plastiques (18), in which she also confirmed that Picabia did use safety ins (cf. reproduction no. 37 in the Appendix) as collage material. Now none of the conventionally known Picabia collages includes safety pins. On the other hand, in the work titled Portrait de femme aux allumettes no 1, the eyes are represented by similar safety pins.
A critic well known between the wars, Mr. Lçon Werth, wrote an article for L'Impartial français on 25 January 1927 (19) in which he linked the Picabia collages with those by Jean Cocteau. These latter are lost today, but they were exhibited from 10 to 28 December 1926 at the Galerie des Quatre Chemins and the exhibition catalogue mentioned under number "1" a work titled Barbette (cf. reproduction no. 38 in the Appendix). And it just so happens that one of the Jousseaume-Manoukian collages is titled Barbette (cf. reproduction no. 23 in the Appendix) and depicts the famous American transvestite who was the talk of the town in Paris in the late 1920s.
There were several other points which made me think that these collages were genuine Picabia works, but I shall not dwell thereupon.
d) Madame Buffet-Picabia's testimony and her interpretation of the Pot Potin collage
The "Pot Potin" trial took place in 1973. Among the evidence submitted at that trial, ther was, in particular, the explanation offered by Picabia's first wife, Mrs. Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, about the "Pot Potin" inscription after which the work is named: namely that Picabia had decided to buy a boat, the Enriquetta, owned by the Comtesse de Neufville. Now, a certain Mr. Potin showed a similar interest in the boat at precisely the same moment. On the very same day, Madame de Neufville had received two telegrams confirming the purchase of the boat, from Mr. Potin and from Picabia, both signed solely with the initial "P" (20). She was unable to decide which of the men was the first purchaser of the boat. There then ensued a court case between Potin and Picabia and the boat was sequestrated. Mr. Calmin, director of the Cannes Marine Register, named Picabia trustee of the boat. The case between Potin and Picabia never took place in the end, because they both agreed to draw lots, a draw which the artist won (cf. reproductions nos. 39 and 40 in the Appendix). This explains the inscription Pot Potin which is a play on words meaning "bad luck for Mr. Potin" even though the picture depicts a bum (Fr. popotin), a familiar expression for the backside of a young woman or child.
Mr. Petit, Mrs. Collinet and Mr. Arturo Schwarz reckoned that this testimony was a mere lie (cf. reproduction no. 41 in the Appendix, the "conclusions" submitted on 26 June 1973 by their counsel Maître Dahan). It is interesting to note that in those "conclusions," those three people declared that if the collage Pot Potin [L'anneau d'or des grands mystiques] was genuine, it would date from Picabia's Dada years, which extended, in their view, from 1920 to 1924, and "that it is quite certain that Picabia did not produce any works of this type after that date." Now, at that particular moment, in 1973, it was already known for sure that the Picabia collages all post-dated 1924-1925, and that the attribution of the Picabia collages to the Dada period, in all publications prior to September 1970, was a mistake: in addition, the Portrait de Poincaré which, in its initial form, dates from 1927, was transformed and considerably modified by Picabia in the 1940s, and this fact also contradicts, once more, the assertion made by that threesome, whereby Picabia did not make any collages after 1924.
The threesome further insisted on the fact that the date of execution of the Picabia collages was prior to 1924; in the same "conclusions" submitted by their counsel for the trial, the threesome specified that if one admitted "the explanation provided by Mrs. Buffet-Picabia in her affidavit, it would have to be deduced that the collage Pot Potin was made after 1924, which is ruled out by anyone acquainted with the work of Picabia" (21).
e) The Pot Potin trial
These proceedings were brought by Mr. Périnet against Mr. Petit, Mrs. Collinet and Mr. Arturo Schwarz, in order to claim damages further to the maneuverings undertaken by this threesome to prevent the sale by auction of Pot Potin, which had been prejudicial to him. The purpose of this trial was, incidentally, not to determine whether the collage was genuine or not, and no expert's opinion was requested by the bench. Mr. Périnet lost the case.
f) Discovery of Rocking Chair
In 1981 I went by chance to Mrs. O. in Brussels and there I discovered on her walls the 1928 gouache on card titled Rocking Chair (cf. reproduction no. 42 in the Appendix); what struck me straight away was the stylistic linkages between Rocking Chair and some of the collages in the Jousseaume-Manoukian series; we might mention, for example, the suspender clips in Pot Potin and the tops of the socks in the character rocking in Rocking Chair; the same graphic style is involved, with the same details and colors (cf. reproductions nos. 43 and 44 in the Appendix). But, and this is even more striking, Rocking Chair (on card) measures 107 x 78 cm whereas Idées noires (on paper) measures 38 x 30 cm. The streetlight in Rocking Chair is executed with gouache on card whereas the one in Idées noires is made with Indian ink on paper. The fact is that these two identical motifs (cf. reproductions nos. 45 and 46 in the Appendix), executed on different surfaces, with different media and in different dimensions, are constructed in the same way and executed with the same spontaineity, the same speed and uncompromisingly. Involved here is a "Morellian signature" (22) which is altogether typical and all the more powerful insomuch as the light in Rocking Chair is partly blurred, at the base, by a figure's hair. The factor that explains why Rocking Chair was unknown in the literature is its provenance. It was sent by Léonce Rosenberg with several other works by Picabia, Max Ernst, Giorgio de Chirico, etc., to an auction sale in Amsterdam at Mak van Waay, on 30 May 1933, and it was not reproduced in the catalogue. At that sale, it was one of the few works to be sold, and it was bought by Mr. Regnault, a collector residing in Laren in the Netherlands, who owned several hundred pictures and paintings. Yet he never had Rocking Chair in his home, for it was kept with lots of other works in his collection in the reserves of the Amsterdamsch Historisch Museum, under number "100" (23). On 22 October 1958, after the deaths of both Regnault and his widow, Rocking Chair was put up for sale again in Amsterdam with Mak van Waay under number "93." It was purchased by Mrs. O. of Brussels for 3,600 florins (24). Mrs. O. still has the painting and before I visited her in 1981, she had only once lent it out, in the winter of 1961-1962, for an exhibition at Ixelles museum -- it subsequently went on to the Charleroi Palais des Beaux-Arts. Rocking Chair, still in the same frame and under the same glass that Léonce Rosenberg had fitted to it, was incidentally reproduced in black and white in the catalogue with the detail "oil on canvas"! Last of all, Rocking Chair was also reproduced in 1951 in an exhibition at the Prinzenhof Museum in Delft, with no details about technique or dimensions, which explains why, until I discovered it in the home of Mrs. O., it remained a work unknown in the traditional literature about Picabia. So it is hard to see how a forger could have reproduced in Idées noires the same streetlight as the one featuring in Rocking Chair, and executed it with the same hand. Mr. Camfield, to whom I set forth these arguments at the time, refused to admit them, but failed to come up with any counter-arguments.
g) Reappearance of the first collage sold by Jousseaume, Portrait de femme no 2.
In 1997, the first of the collages in the series sold by Jousseaume (that is, the 12th one referred to in note 14, and reproduction no. 27) reappeared at an exhibition in Verona at the Museo di Palazzo Forti. The same scenario as the one that occurred for Pot Potin in 1970 was thus repeated; the Picabia Committee organized a cabal against this work by sending to the museum's director letters from Mrs. Camfield, Mrs. Maria Lluisa Borràs, Mr. Arnauld Pierre, Mr. Arturo Schwarz, and Mr. Jean-Jacques Lebel (son of Robert Lebel who had signed the 1970 petition declaring that Pot Potin was a fake) (25) (cf. reproductions nos. 47, 48, 49, 50 and 51 in the Appendix.)
It should also be noted, furthermore, that Jean-Jacques Lebel and Arturo Schwarz declared in a letter (cf. reproduction no. 51 in the Appendix) that the work exhibited in Verona could not be genuine because, to depict the figure's eyes, it included paper clips which (in their view) did not exist in the 1920s. Research has made it possible to show that these clips, known as "butterfly clips" or "ideal clips" were patented in 1902 in the United States by Alfred Shedlock of Jersey City (New Jersey) and were on sale at the stationery manufacturers Cushman and Denison; what is more, even if these clips had post-dated the 1920s, they could well have been later additions made by the artist or others, like, for example, some of the collages featuring in Le Beau Charcutier by Picabia (London, Tate Modern), and which were added by Picabia in the 1940s. So this failed to prove the fakeness of this work exhibited in Verona and one remains perplexed by so much incompetence and conceit.
I was at this moment that, aware as I was from the mid-1980s on the Schwarz collage Les Centimètres was no more than a 1940s' Picabia remake, and this thanks to the execution of its painted surface, I attempted to prove as much, and did so successfully, by way of the dating of the matches, as we saw in an earlier chapter. I would repeat that if I said not a word until 1997 as far as the exact dating of the Arturo Schwarz collage is concerned, and if I also kept quiet about the fact that, in the 1940s, Picabia made remakes of works previously produced in the years 1910-1920, this was because, through its various doings, the Picabia Committee had persuaded me that it was both incompetent and unethical.
h) The documents proving the accuracy of the interpretation of Pot Potin
Having managed to show that the Arturo Schwarz collage dates from the 1940s and not from 1924-1925, as all the experts had asserted and published, I said to myself that I would have to try and prove, through documents, that the explanation of the anecdote about the inscription Pot Potin provided by Mrs. Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia was true. There had to be documents to do with legal proceedings between Picabia and Potin about a yacht. The problems were as follows:
-- I did not have the precise dates of these possible legal proceedings.
-- The administrative and judicial subdivisions at the time are nothing like those of today.
-- It was necessary to locate the archives still in existence.
On the other hand, I knew that the legal proceedings had perforce taken place after 1927 (because this is the date of the inscription "l'anneau d'or des grands mystiques," which features as a glued element in Pot Potin) and that they must have been held before 1932. The kindness and dedication of difference people in different administrations meant that I was able to put my finger on the following documents which corrobate in every way, apart from one or two tiny details, the statements issued in 1972 by Mrs. Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia:
-- Statement by Madame de Neufville attesting that she received a deposit from Picabia for the purchase of the boat Enriquetta (cf. reproduction no. 52 in the Appendix).
-- An urgent summons (cf. reproduction no. 53 in the Appendix) from Mr. Roger Potin to Baron de Neufville and to Picabia about the sale of the Enriquetta.
-- Urgent ruling of 25 February 1930 (cf. reproduction no. 54 in the Appendix) ordering the sequestration of the Enriquetta and naming Picabia as trustee of the yacht.
-- Telephone directory of the city hall (1929-1931) (cf. reproduction no. 55 in the Appendix) mentioning Mr. Colmin as chief clerk 2nd class of the Nice district.
-- No verdict in the Picabia-Potin case (cf. reproduction no. 56 in the Appendix) which means that it was settled between an amicable agreement between the two parties, which lends credence to the anecdote about drawing lots, won by Picabia, as Mrs. Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia recounted in 1972.
So the explanation behind the Pot Potin collage provided by the Picabia family was verified in every way (26).
Neither Mrs. Olga Picabia (who, in 1930, was the artist's mistress; she did not marry him until 1939) nor Mr. Camfield, nor Mrs. Borràs were aware of all these anecdotal facts associated with the acquisition of the Enriquetta (cf. reproductions nos. 57 and 58 in the Appendix). Furthermore, the play on words and its double interpretation, which we have already mentioned (cf. chapter III, d) (27) is obtained by the combination of the gouache composition (depicting a woman's lower abdomen, thighs splayed) with the collage of the two words "Pot" and "Potin." This is much too complicated to have been conceived all in one go.
This work was first conceived in 1927-1928, with the goauched part (which can be stylistically dated to 1927-1928) and the collage: "l'anneau d'or des grands mystiques," which also dates from 1927 or thereabouts. It was not until 1930, after Picabia and Potin drew lots, with the later losing, that the Pot Potin collage was added, and the double interpretation based on the wordplay obtained.
i) Characteristics of the author of Pot Potin
So now, in 1998, with regard to Pot Potin, we know that the person who produced it: -- Knew before 1970 that Picabia's collages were produced later than 1924, because the goauched composition of Pot Potin refers stylistically to 1927-1928 and not to Picabia's Dada years (i.e. prior to 1924) as all publications on Picabia prior to 1970 had asserted.
-- That this person was abreast of all the goings-on surrounding the purchase of the yacht Enriquetta, goings-on which were not known to Olga Picabia and the two specialists on the artist: Mr. Camfield and Mrs. Borràs.
-- That this person executed in two phases, a few years apart, the Pot Potin collage and gouache by coming up with a contradictory wordplay between the imagery (a bum) and the meaning of the collage: out of luck, Mr. Potin.
Accordingly, in a letter dated 16 October 1998 written to Mr. Camfield, I asked him if he thought that the author of Pot Potin, who had thus demonstrated all the afore-mentioned characteristics, was a forger or Picabia himself. It is possible that I was not very clear in my letter, but Mr. Camfield answered me on 5 November that I had effectively proved that the interpretation of the Pot Potin collage provided by Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia was exact. I thus wrote back to Mr. Camfield in a letter dated 10 November 1998, and to avoid any kind of evasion, I asked him to answer yes or no to the question as to whether the author of Pot Potin was or was not Picabia.
At that particular moment, the case concerning Portrait de femme no 2 (cf. reproduction no. 27 in the Appendix) which had been exhibited in Verona was under way. Mr. Camfield answered me that in order to reply to my question about the author of Pot Potin, he wanted to wait for the outcome of the Verona court case! (Letter of 14 December 1998).
j) The Verona trial
The proceedings concerning Portrait de femme no. II had been brought the Picabia Committee in Italy, against both the owner of this work (Mr. V.D.H.) and against Mr. Cortenova (director of the Palazzo di Forti Museum in Verona). The judge duly decided to appoint an expert, Mrs. Carla Pellegrini-Rocca, owner of a contemporary art gallery in Milan, who decided to go ahead with a scientific analysis of this work. The official responsible for this analysis (from the Institute of Art History in Zurich) went to Italy and subjected the back of the card surface to ultraviolet fluorescence, concluding that there was the presence of Stillbene, an optical brightener that has only existed since the 1940s.
When you make a piece of card or board with recycled things (old rags, old paper), you include in the mix what is called an optical brightener, for, if you don't, the result obtained would be far too dark-hued. Stillbene is one such optical brightener. The Papiers et cartons laboratory in Grenoble told me that it was not possible to determine the nature of an optical brightener by mere UV fluorescence, because this could be obtained either by optical brighteners other than Stillbene, or even by a process of physical-chemical breakdown of the card fibers (28). In fact, the analysis making it possible to determine the presence of Stillbene calls for the removal of a (very small) sample of the card and sophisticated laboratory technology: chromatography. This analysis is current for any specialized laboratory, for, because Stillbene is reputed to be carcinogenic, major food companies must be quite sure that the packaging for their products does not contain any Stillbene, and they accordingly carry out this sort of analysis on a regular and systematic basis.
To undertake this analysis, a protocol has even been drawn up which is valid for all European countries. So I took the collage Portrait de femme no 2 to Grenoble, to this laboratory where this analysis by chromatography was made. The presence of Stillbene was detected in it, but in small amounts: which leaves the door open to another possibility, presence by contamination. It would be very destructive for the work to determine the exact origin and manage to decided between the various hypotheses as to the presence of Stillbene.
But 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, but remakes made with elements coming, in many instances, from works produced in the period 1925-1930. I therefore explained this in a letter dated 12 February 2001 to Mr. Camfield, pointing out to him:
-- the inaneness of the scientific analyis carried out in Italy, using just UV fluorescence.
-- the fact that even if the presence of Stillbene was not due to contamination, this did not prove that the collage was a fake (29), because we know that, in the 1940s, Picabia produced remakes (30).
And so I also asked him once more for an answer about the identity of the author of Pot Potin. I reproduce his answer of 22 February 2001 without comment (cf. reproduction no. 59 in the Appendix). I was thus most surprised to see that none of the art historian members of the Picabia Committee has the slightest knowledge about the scientific analysis of artworks.
Just as in the course of the Pot Potin court case, Messrs. Petit and Schwarz and Mrs. Collinet had shown their ignorance about the exact dating of the Picabia collages (even though the knowledge in question had already been available for three years), the Picabia Committee members did, this time around, for the Verona trial, indeed show their ignorance about the scientific analysis of artworks and their inability to correctly interpret the results obtained.
If many fakes have been in circulation for decades, along with other errors such as: mistakes in attribution, major mistakes in dating, and worse still, genuine works being declared fakes, it is evident that all this challenges the responsibility of the Picabia Committee and the attitude of its members.
The reasons which have paved the way for the accumulation and spread, over decades, of all these different types of errors and mistakes are, in my view, many and varied:
-- where the remakes are concerned, which nobody on the Picabia Committee has managed to identify as such (31), I think that the good faith of the Picabia Committee members cannot be doubted. These examples of blindness were and still are sincere.
-- as far as the fakes declared and/or admitted, and/or published, and/or exhibited, and sold, in certain instances, as genuine, are concerned: here again, I think that, at the onset of this proliferation, nobody on the Picabia Committee was aware of anything. But after years of falsifying exaggeration, I have good reason to think that certain Picabia Committee members realized what was afoot, but in spite of everything, they kept their mouths shut (32). It seems to me, therefore, that the three art historians on the Committee should either have reacted or resigned. But they preferred to keep quiet and remain on the Committee (33).
-- as far as the genuine works declared to be fakes are concerned, that is the series of Jousseaume-Manoukian collages, the whole cabal was set up between 1969 and 1973 by Mr. Petit, Mrs. Collinet and Mrs. Schwarz. They have varied motivations, I think, depending on the members of the threesome.
In any event, we have seen (chapter III/d) in the conclusions submitted in 1973 by this threesome for the Pot Potin case, that their sole argument for demonstrating its non-authenticity was based on their belief in a dating of the Picabia collages prior to 1924, that is, from the artist's Dada period; whereas Pot Potin refers visibly to a post-1927 dating. In this same chapter we have seen that this threesome was completely wrong and that in 1973 they were still aware that the correct dating of the Picabia collages was later than 1924-1925, an item of knowledge that was nevertheless published in 1970. It should also be noted that if Pot Potin had been produced by a forger, this latter then knew more in 1969 about the Picabia collages than that expert threesome knew in 1973. It can still be admitted that in 1981, after I had found Rocking Chair, and shown the existence of a Morellian signature, the art historians on the Picabia Committee had seen nothing, and understood nothing (34).
On the other hand, after finding the legal documents explaining the significance of Pot Potin and the associated wordplay, and all that that implies, serious questions, in my view, are raised as to the attitude of these three art historians. I would add that it is even more serious in an ethical sense to declare genuine works fakes (and thus take away from the corpus of the artist's oeuvre) that it is to declare fake works genuine (and thus add to the artist's works).
1. The exhibitions in which this work featured are: 1985, Madrid, Salas Ruiz Picasso de Ministerio de Cultura, Francis Picabia; 1985, Barcelona, Caixa de Pensions Cultural Centre, no. 14, col. repr.; 1986, Nimes, Museum of Fine Art, Francis Picabia, no. 9, repr. p. 34; 1989, Paris, Didier Impert Fine Arts, Paris, Capitole des Arts, cat. no. 88, col. repr.; 1990, Paris, Didier Impert Fine Arts, Picabia, cat. no. 6; 1996, Santiago de Compostela, Museo de Pobo Galego, Francis Picabia, o sono Espanol, cat. no. 2; 1997, Lisbon, Centra Cultural de Belem, Francis Picabia, cat. no. 6, col. reprs.
2. Mrs. Rita Lougares is the director of the Belem Cultural Centre in Lisbon, where this Picabia retrospective was on view from 6 June to 31 August 1997.
3. Sotheby's, Impressionist and Modern Art, Part II, New York, 13 November 1996, catalogue "6914 Thepea."
4. Maitre Pierre Cornette of Saint-Cyr, Modern Paintings, abstract and contemporary art, Paris, 10 October 1998, Drouot Montaigne.
5. I collect paintings that are declared to be fakes by the experts, when they are real and beautiful; but I didn't think I'd ever be able to show that this painting was really from 1911, and just be able to add it to my collection. 1911 is a very significant date for Picabia, because it tallies with the beginnings of abstract art. Immediately after the Second World War, there was a major quarrel between Kandinsky, Kupka and Picabia, to find out who was the first painter of specifically abstract works.
6. So it never left Picabia's studio until it was sold by Olga Picabia, directly to Arturo Schwarz, in the early 1960s.
7. And thereby demonstrate among other things that all those experts who claimed to be able to tell the genuine article and the fake apart, as far as Picabia's collages are concerned, were already incapable of seeing the differences between the pictorial textures of the mid-1920s and the 1940s, which were nevertheless very marked in Picabia's work.
8. This piece of flexible tape measure with gradations from 1 to 12, which featured the nose in the Portrait de Poincaré, has today disappeared from the new form of this work transformed by Picabia in the 1940s and since titled Le Beau Charcutier.
9. Maria Lluis Borràs, Picabia, Paris, Albin Michel, 1985, figures no. 397 and 398, reproduced on pp. 232 and 233.
10. Maria Lluis Borras, Picabia, Paris, Albin Michel, 1985, figures no. 881, reproduced on p. 415.
11. Maria Lluis Borras, Picabia, Paris, Albin Michel, 1985, figures no. 801, reproduced on p. 399.
12. But once again, given the attitude of the Picabia Committee and its members, I have never tried to show them this type of glaring error, that I had been aware of for many years. I now think that the Picabia Committee members must have realized that the lack of understanding they have shown over 30 years regarding the dating of the Schwarz collage has also applied to other cases. I do not think that any members of the Committee are today capable of telling the difference (in all cases) between a genuine work, a remake and a fake.
13. Pot Potin is also called L'Anneau d'or des grands mystiques/The Golden Ring of the great mystics.
14. Mr. Jousseaume sold the Portrait de femme no 2 several years before selling the other collages in this series to Mr. Manoukian. This Portrait de femme no 2 would reappear in about 1980, at a dealer specializing in Picabia's work, Mr. Hans Neuendorf, and we shall deal with this later on. This series of collages consists of all of 12 works, the largest measuring 65 x 54 cm, and the smallest 38 x 29 cm.
15. On 15 May 1972, Olga Picabia had thus changed her mind about the certificate of authenticity that she had given to Mr. Perinet on 18 December 1970.
16. As I had previously asked Mr. Camfield for his opinion about the Manoukian collages, he had answered that he did not wish to make any significant pronouncement in one direction or the other; so I asked him to remove his name from the petition, which he refused to do; so since 1973 he was one of those declaring that Pot Potin was a fake Picabia.
17. There have been some very impressive forgers, and some very incompetent art historians, but there has never been a forger one step ahead of an art historical discovery. A forger always bases his work on the known findings of art history at the moment when he makes his fakes.
18. Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, Matieres plastiques, Xxeme siecle, volume I-II, no. 2, May 1938, pp. 31-35.
19. Page 335 of Volume XII of the Dossier Picabia, deposited in the Doucet Library by the Picabia family.
20. At that time, every word in a telegram was paid for and it was common only to sign with initials to cut the cost.
21. The very fact that in 1973 Messrs. Petit and Schwarz and Mrs. Collinet still did not know that the Picabia collages were all dated post-1924-1925 says a great deal about their ignorance. For 40 years, Mr. Schwarz lived with Les Centimètres, in the belief, at least until 1973, that the work was dated circa 1920, then, until 1997, that it was dated 1924-1925, whereas we have seen that it was dated from the 1940s. Mrs. Olga Picabia, in her letter written on 19 February 1973, for the Pot Potin case (cf. reproduction no. 19 in the Appendix), demonstrates the same ignorance as the Petit-Schwarz-Collinet threesome; in 1973 she was still under the belief that the Picabia collages dated from the Dada period (thus prior to 1924), whereas since September 1970 it has been well-known that they are dated at the earliest 1924-1925.
22. The term "Morellian signature," so named after Giovanni Morelli (1816-1891), an art historian who founded the modern "Connoisseurship," means a detail as might be found identical in composition and executed in the same way in several works.
23. Regnault had the habit of depositing the many works he did not want to keep at home in the museum's reserves.
24. My thanks to Caroline Roodenburg-Schaad of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for this information: Mrs. Roodenburg-Schaad organized an exhibition about the Regnault collection at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum in 1995. Regnault, incidentally, was a major donor to the museum.
25. We should note that the Picabia Committee has never said or done anything to raise objections to any of the fakes that have appeared at auction sales on in Picabia retrospectives and in particular, as we have already seen in Chapter I, example "e," where we saw a fake being withdrawn from a sale at Christie's of London, which reappeared three months later, in a sale at Maître Cornette of Saint-Cyr. In this flagrant case, no member of the Picabia Committee raised the slightest objection.
26. This also proves that the interpretation of Y'a Bon Banania, the collage featuring in the work in the same Jousseaume-Manoukian series, acquired by the Pompidou Centre, is also exact.
27. I underline the double interpretation of the wordplay based on Pot Potin: although the work depicts a popotin or bum (a familiar word for the backside of a young woman or child), it also suggests, through the collage: "manque de pot, Potin" or "Out of luck, Potin."
28. There are many scientific publications dealing with this topic.
29. For the same examination, I also took to Grenoble another collage in this same series, and stylistically very close to the one from Verona, and in which no trace of Stillbene has been detected, even with this sophisticated technique. And yet I maintain that this work dates from the 1940s. Similarly, an analysis of the pigments in the Verona collage has shown that they were all compatible with the circa 1928 dating; likewise, this does not prove that the Verona collage was executed in about 1928.
30. Any more, incidentally, than the presence of collages of "modern" materials in Le Beau Charcutier means that it is a fake.
31. And some of which are still being published today as dating from the 1910s and 1920s.
32. For example, the refusal by Mr. Camfield and Mrs. Borràs to reply (cf. Chapter I/c) and certain lively conversations I have had with Mrs. Borràs. Since then, Mrs. Borràs and Mr. Pierre have informed me that they had nothing more to do with the Picabia Committee. True or False?
33. In the case of Wols' widow, Professor Haftmann preferred to resign, rather than underwrite the dubious goings-on.
34. It is even possible that none of them was acquainted with the name of Morelli and classic examples of Morellian signatures.
Translated from the French by Simon Pleasance.