Francis Picabia (22 January 1879 – 30 November 1953) was a French dadaist painter, poet and typographist. After experimenting with Impressionism and Pointillism, Picabia became associated with Cubism. His highly abstract planar compositions were colorful and rich in contrasts. He was one of the early major figures of the Dada movement in the United States and in France.

He was later briefly associated with Surrealism, but would soon turn his back on the art establishment altogether. Francis Picabia was born in Paris of a French mother and a Cuban father who was an attaché at the Cuban legation in Paris. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was seven. Some sources would have his father as of African descent, and Picabia himself claimed it.

After the death of his mother, Picabia’s father sent him to live with family friends in Switzerland. He attended school in Nyon, Switzerland, from 1892-1897. While living in Nyon, he received his first exposure to art in the form of paintings by Impressionists such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. These works, found hanging in family friends’ houses, were the only ones he would see for many years.

In 1897, Picabia returned to Paris with his father. From 1903 to 1908, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under sculptor Justin Lequien and painter Ferdinand Humbert, though he would later claim that his time at the Ecole was a waste. In 1909, after attending an exhibition of work by the late Edvard Munch, Picabia came to the decision that all art was worthless except for art meant to provoke laughter. He proceeded to destroy all of the paintings left in his possession from his time at the Ecole, and set out on a quest to make art that was solely about humor.

In 1915, Picabia met and married Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina with Sergei Diaghilev’s renowned Ballets Russes. The couple had a son, Robert, and Picabia became financially successful through the sale of his paintings and Khokhlova’s connections. In the early 1920s, Picabia started to experiment with Dada, an anti-art movement that was sweeping through Europe at the time.

He created several Dada-inspired works, the most famous of which is “Mechanical Head (The Poet)” (1923), a portrait of himself with a typewriter for a nose and other machine parts for facial features. In 1924, he began to associate with Surrealism, another avant-garde movement that was gaining popularity in Europe. He created several Surrealist works, including “The Cacodylic Eye” (1925), a portrait of fellow Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí with an eye in the center of his forehead.

In 1926, Picabia traveled to New York City at the invitation of Dadaist poet and art dealer Juliette Lévy. He stayed for several months, during which time he met and befriended many of the leading figures of the American Dada movement, including Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Alexander Calder. He also met and had an affair with the much younger Gabrielle Buffet, a fashion model who would later become his second wife.

In 1927, Picabia returned to Paris and began to distance himself from the Surrealists. He started to experiment with abstract, planar compositions, which he saw as a way to move beyond the limitations of traditional perspective. These works, which he showed in an exhibition at the Galerie des Arts Décoratifs in 1929, were met with critical acclaim.

In the 1930s, Picabia’s work became increasingly abstract, and he began to experiment with different mediums, including photography, film, and mechanical drawings. He also started to incorporate words and phrases into his compositions, a practice that would come to be known as “herbicide.” In 1934, he had a solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York, which featured several of his recent abstract works.

In the late 1930s, Picabia started to move away from abstraction and experiment with figuration once again. He began to paint portraits, nudes, and scenes from everyday life.

In 1940, Picabia and Buffet divorced, and Picabia married his third wife, the much younger Denise René. The couple moved to the French Riviera, where Picabia continued to paint portraits, nudes, and landscapes. In 1947, he had a solo exhibition at the Galerie Maeght in Paris, which featured many of his recent works.

In the early 1950s, Picabia’s health began to decline, and he stopped painting altogether. He died in 1953 at the age of 70.

Picabia was a prolific and versatile artist who worked in a wide range of styles and mediums. He is best known for his Dada and Surrealist works, but he also created many other kinds of art, including abstractions, portraits, landscapes, and nudes. His work continues to be shown in exhibitions all over the world, and his legacy as one of the most important artists of the 20th century is secure.