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Monday, January 30, 2023

Night road – Francis Picabia: the first Art Car

Indianapolis, May 30, 1923. On the mythical oval where the Indianapolis 500 Miles have taken place since 1911, you have to reckon with French builders. They have even already won many times: Peugeot in 1913, 1916 and 1919 and Delage in 1914.

In 1923, Bugatti decided to try his luck with five cars which were entered by their drivers. The Type 30s are equipped with a tapered, blue body, which was designed by Louis Béchereau, an aerodynamicist who works for the aeronautical firm Spad.

At the 1923 ACF Grand Prix, Bugatti entered the tank, a car with a fully enveloping body, but at Indianapolis it was a more classic model with the wheels in the open air.

For the first time, we see the sketch of the radiator in the shape of a horseshoe, although it is dressed in profiling.

The tiger painted by Picabia on the hood of the Bugatti.

Despite this attractive form, the Bugatti’s result was not brilliant at Indianapolis, with only one car at the finish of a race won by a Miller…

But history will remember above all that the Bugatti of Pierre de Vizcaya was characterized by a particularity more exciting than any sporting result: a tiger painted by Francis Picabia. It is without doubt the first time in history that an automobile lends its side, in the literal sense, to a work of art.

Francis Picabia at the wheel of a Delage.
Francis Picabia at the wheel of a Delage.

Francis Picabia is particularly sensitive to the automobile. Personally, he circulates in thoroughbreds. In New York, he uses a Mercer while in Europe he is found driving a Delage. His friend, the photographer Man Ray has also captured some shots of the painter at the controls of his high-speed cars.

Man Ray photographs speed.
Man Ray photographs speed.

In the painting of the master of Dadaism, mechanics is omnipresent. For the Dada movement, the machine is an agent of derision and destruction, a support for fantasies that stigmatizes all human activities. When he paints the portrait of Marie Laurencin, Francis Picabia paints a fan. the portrait of a young american girl in a state of nudity is a spark plug. Gabrielle Buffet takes on the features of a windshield. The carburetor child consists of pulleys, springs and screw threads. !

Picabia remembers furtive visions of a road angle illuminated, for a fraction of a second, by the beam of light from the headlights. A night road, of course.

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