Before establishing himself as a pioneering member of the dada movement during and after World War I, Picabia experimented with various forms of modernist painting. Procession, Seville belongs to a group of works from 1912 in which the artist demonstrates a sophisticated and highly idiosyncratic assimilation of recent developments in cubism and futurism. Fragmented planes, shallow space, and an allover pattern of flickering lights and darks are all associated with the analytic cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque; the quasi-abstract evocation of bodies in motion is an interest Picabia shared with Italian futurist painters such as Gino Severini and Umberto Boccioni, who were just beginning to exhibit in Paris.
The paintings in this series, which includes several large-scale works, were produced between June and September. All of the pictures have descriptive titles that are often boldly inscribed on the painting itself; many of these, including Procession, Seville, relate to scenes of peasant and religious life that Picabia had witnessed on his honeymoon in Spain in 1909. Procession, Seville purports to represent a hillside religious procession, with nuns in black habits and white headgear. Figures coalesce into a mass in the center of the canvas, making their way up the rugged terrain, with blue sky showing in the upper-left and upper-right corners of the composition. The restricted palette, dominated by blacks, whites, and grays, derives in principle from analytic cubism, but the acidic passages of blue and orange (presumably the nuns' faces) are peculiar to Picabia's work. Picabia's paintings from 1912 were often produced in formal and thematic sequences or groups, including several canvases devoted to images of the dance. The subject of the present painting is probably related to two other works from this period, Procession and Processional Music, both now lost. Despite Picabia's titles, the paintings of 1912 and 1913 were considered by various observers of the period as virtually abstract.
Picabia participated in a number of exhibitions of avant-garde painting during the prewar period. Procession, Seville was shown in the Salon de la section d'or, an important early cubist exhibition that was held at the Galerie de la BoÎtie in Paris in October 1912. It was on this occasion that the poet-critic Guillaume Apollinaire attempted to codify recent developments in cubist and futurist painting: Picabia—along with Robert Delaunay and Marcel Duchamp—was an "Orphic" cubist devoted to "pure painting," an abstract idiom that was analogous to music. This comparison between painting and music, which was a common one during the prewar period, was frequently made by Picabia himself in interviews and statements about his work in 1913. Procession, Seville was also one of four works by Picabia that appeared in the landmark New York Armory exhibition of 1913, which introduced an American audience to the most advanced developments of the time in modernist European and American art. The painting has an important provenance: it was originally acquired by Marcel Duchamp, Picabia's close friend since 1911; Duchamp sold the painting at a large auction of Picabia's works in his collection in 1926, at which time Procession, Seville was acquired by André Breton.
(Text by Jeffrey Weiss, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
1. Concerning Procession, Seville in the context of Picabia's prewar work, see William Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times (Princeton, 1979), 32—33.
2. Camfield 1979, 35-36.
3. See Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia (New York, 1985), 98.
4. Camfield 1979, 43-45.
lower right: Picabia; upper right: LA PROCESSION / SEVILLE
The artist; Marcel Duchamp [1887-1968], Paris; (his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8 March 1926, no. 7); Mme André Breton, Paris, until at least 1930; Léonce Rosenberg, Paris, before 1953; Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, Paris, at least in 1953; Mme Simone Collinet, Paris; (Sidney Janis Gallery, New York); purchased 1956 by Herbert and Nanette Rothschild, Kitchawan, New York; gift 1973 to their daughter and her husband, Barbara and Roger Michaels, Ossining, New York; acquired 1997 by NGA.
- Salon de La Section d'Or, Galerie de la Boëtie, Paris, 1912, no. 124, pl. 25.
- International Exhibition of Modern Art [The Armory Show], Association of American Painters and Sculptors, Armory of the Sixty-ninth Infantry, New York, 1913, no. 416; Art Institute of Chicago, no. 284; Copley Society of Boston, Copley Hall, no. 141.
- Francis Picabia, Galerie Th. Briant, Paris, 1928, no. 10.
- Exposition Francis Picabia: Trente Ans de Peinture, Léonce Rosenberg, Paris, 1930, no. 5.
- 491, Galerie René Drouin, Paris, 1949, no. 10.
- Le Cubisme (1907-1914), Musée National d'art Moderne, Paris, 1953, no. 100.
- Le Mouvement dans l'Art Contemporain, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, 1955, no. 53.
- Cubism 1910-1912, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1956, no. 25, repro.
- X Years of Janis: 10th Anniversary Exhibition, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1958, no. 53, repro.
- 1913 Armory Show, 50th Anniversary Exhibition 1963, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica; Armory of the Sixty-ninth Regiment, New York, 1963, no. 416.
- Herbert and Nannette Rothschild Collection: An exhibition in celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of Pembroke College in Brown University, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, October-November 1966, no. 116.
- Seven Decades 1895-1965: Crosscurrents in Modern Art, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York, April-May 1966, no. 47, repro. (exhibition at ten New York galleries for the benefit of the Public Education Association).
- Masterpieces of Twentieth Century Art, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1969, no. 35.
- Francis Picabia, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Cincinnati Art Museum; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Detroit Institute of Arts, 1970, no. 23, repro.
- The Cubist Epoch, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1971, no. 224, pl. 111.
- 25 Years of Janis: 25th Anniversary Exhibition, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1973, no. 90, repro.
- Exposition Francis Picabia, Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1976, no. 23, repro.
- Masters in 20th Century Art, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1979.
- Malerei im Prisma, Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne, 1991, repro.
- Encounters with Modern Art: The Reminiscences of Nanette F. Rothschild: Works from the Rothschild Family Collections, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1996-1998, no. 65, repro.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Cubisti Cubismo, Complesso Monumentale del Vittoriano, Rome, 2013, no. 20, repro.
- Apollinaire, Guillaume. Apollinaire on Art: Essays and Reviews 1902-1918. New York, 1972:291.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 408, no. 339, color repro.