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Untitled (Match-Woman I)

A work made of oil on canvas with wooden matchsticks, hairpins, coins, leather hair rollers, and string.
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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  • A work made of oil on canvas with wooden matchsticks, hairpins, coins, leather hair rollers, and string.




Francis Picabia
French, 1879–1953

About this artwork

Picabia was at the center of Dada’s more celebrated activities between 1917, the year he brought out the first issue of his irreverent journal 391, and October 1924, when he published the final issue of 391 (no. 19) attacking the new movement of Surrealism. Although he frequently collaborated with the Dadaists, he also occasionally denounced them from the platform of 391, of which he carefully retained control. Le Pilhaou-thibaou, the name given to issue number fifteen of 391 (July 10, 1921), inveighed against Paris Dada, but by the following year, the wounds were healed and Picabia happily collaborated with André Breton and his group on a new series of the journal Littérature, designing many of its most provocative covers (see London, Hayward Gallery, Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, 1978, exh. cat. by Dawn Ades, pp. 161-75). While Marcel Duchamp, beginning in 1912, was the first to explore the symbolicand anti-aesthetic possibilities of the machine and mechanical imagery, it was Picabia who, perhaps more than any other artist, later pursued the theme with magnificent inventiveness. In many ways Picabia represented the public face of Dada, regularly exhibiting at the official salons in Paris, which he taunted through his use of highly unconventional materials, a characteristic exemplified by the Bergman work.

While acknowledging this picture’s indisputable originality, scholars have raised some questions about the accuracy of the date 1920 inscribed at lower right. If correct, this date would place the work several years before any other work of its kind. William Camfield and Charles Stuckey have suggested that Picabia may have mistakeningly added this date well after the painting was completed. It is difficult to date Picabia’s work from the Dada years because he often experimented with radically different styles. This work seems to relate most closely to a group of collages which are dated roughly between 1923 and 1926, and which are composed of such diverse mateials as matches, toothpicks, drinking straws, coins, curlers, combs, hairpins, feathers, curtain rings, noodles, a tape measure, and even shoe soles. As in the Bergman picture, in these works Picabia arranged the collage elements on a simple, flat, painted background, and diverted the objects from their original, utilitarian function to make a coherent, clearly recognizable image.

Several factors, nevertheless, seem to support a date of 1920 for this work. The March 1920 issue of 391 (no. 12) relfects Picabia’s increasing opposition to accepted art forms, an attitude that may well have prompted him to experiment with readymade materials. On thecover of this issue, he reproduced his own version of Duchamp’s Tableau Dada: LHOOQ—an image of Leonardo da Vinici’s Mona Lisa penciled over with a mustache (Picabia forgot the beard; Camfield 1979, pl. 19, between pp. 70 and 71, p. 141 n. 240. In addition, Picabia’s “Manifeste Dada” published in the same issue beneath the reproduction of Duchamp’s work, is one of his more aggresive attacks on modern art and its values— above all on Cubism. The following year he would utilize collage materials with a vengeance, culminating in his raucous submissions to the Salon des Indépendents of 1922. These consisted of The Merry Widow, Straw Hat?, and Saint Guy’s Dance, all of 1921. The last two include string, which is also a component of the Bergman collage. Finally, the rough capital letters of the signature and numerals of the date on the Berman work are consistent with those on a group of 1920 portraits of his Dada colleagues and on a self-portrait.

The other version of this work, Match-Woman II, formerly in Breton’s collection and dated 1924/25 can easily be distinguished from the Bergman version by the pendant on the woman’s necklace, signaled by a larger coin. In this second version, the arrangement of matches and white highlights gives the impression of lonfer, more disorderly hair; the figure’s head is also shorter and slightly wider. Most significantly, the face and neck are outlined with thick lines of light blue paint, rather than the string used in the Bergman collage and in workds of the early 1920s, such as the 1921 collage Straw Hat?.

The tipped matchsticks, of which there are three different styles in the Bergman collage, convey with precision the prinked and permed appearance of a fashionable woman of the time. Dada’s relationship with fashion is intriguing and unexpectantly multifaceted. Breton was strongly influenced by Jacques Vaché, a dandy in the purest sese, while Picabia himself moved simultaneously in the worlds of the fashionable le tout Paris (Parisian high society, which included famous figures from the literacy and artistic worlds) and Dada. Fashion was a major theme of the 1921 “Salon Dada” exhibition at the Galerie Montaigne in Paris: an elegant male mannequin, for example, was poised high up on the wall above the installation, with a long row of knotted ties hanging from a balcony below his feet (Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, Perpetual Motif: The Art of Man Ray, 1988-90, exh. cat., p. 92, ill.) In 1921 Picabia described the Dadaists, with whom he was then at war, as ripe for Paul Poiret, a fashionable French couturier (Le Pilhaou-thibaou [July 10, 1921], p. 6). The back page of the July 1924 issue of 391 (no. 18, p. 126) featured an enigmatic photograph of a pearl necklace of French coins in the Bergman collage. That particular issue of 391 in fact focused on modern art and fashion: “Picasso,” Picabia wrote in one of his typical aphorisms, “creates modern anxiety in the manner of Paul Poiret” (p. 125).

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 216-218.


On View, Gallery 397


Modern Art


Francis Picabia


Untitled (Match-Woman I)


France (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on canvas with wooden matchsticks, hairpins, coins, leather hair rollers, and string


Signed, l.l.: "FRANCIS PICABIA"


92.1 × 73.3 cm (36 1/4 × 28 7/8 in.)

Credit Line

Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection

Reference Number



© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Extended information about this artwork

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