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Catch as Catch Can

Francis Picabia, French, 1879 - 1953

Made in France, Europe


Oil on canvas

41 1/2 x 34 x 1 3/4 inches (105.4 x 86.4 x 4.4 cm) Framed: 41 1/2 x 34 x 2 inches (105.4 x 86.4 x 5.1 cm)

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

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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In this painting, Picabia combined the memory of a no-holds-barred wrestling match (known as "catch-as-catch-can") with the motions of a Polish dancer he saw rehearsing aboard an ocean liner. The inscription "Edtaonisl 1913" mixes up the letters of the French words étoil(e) [star] and dans(e) [dance] to describe this celebrated performer.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    When Picabia first exhibited his work in the United States, at the Armory Show of 1913, the New York Times dubbed him "the Cuban who outcubed the Cubists," a reference to the artist's Caribbean heritage. By that time Picabia had already caught the attention of the Paris art world, having enjoyed a prodigious early success in reviving the Impressionist style of painting at the beginning of the twentieth century. The artist changed direction dramatically following his first contacts, in 1911, with Marcel Duchamp and with Guillaume Apollinaire, the poet and champion of Cubism. Abandoning his Impressionist mode, Picabia began to experiment with abstract painting, demonstrating a highly individualistic approach to Cubism characterized by vivid color harmonies. Catch as Catch Can dates from shortly after the Armory Show, one of an ambitious sequence of paintings inspired by his succès de scandale in New York.

    Picabia based several of his Cubist paintings on events from his personal life, and Catch as Catch Can is no exception. The artist's first wife, Gabrielle, recalled that while eating in a restaurant one evening, she, Apollinaire, and Picabia became fascinated by a fearsome Chinese wrestler seated nearby. They followed the enormous man to a match of catch-as-catch-can, a form of wrestling in which usually forbidden moves such as trips and holds below the waist are allowed. Picabia commemorated the events of that night in this abstract painting. Vibrant bands of color and interlocking forms capture the explosive excitement of the bout, as the Chinese wrestler grapples with his opponent in front of a roaring crowd. The inscription at the bottom, "Edtaonisl 1913," relates to the popular Polish dancer Stacia Napierkowska, whose risqué dance routines served as the inspiration for a number of the artist's paintings. The artist's cryptic inscription mixes up the letters of the French words étoil(e) (star) and dans(e) (dance), using a process analogous to his pictorial arrangement of shattered color planes. Picabia appears to have combined the memory of the moving body of the star dancer with that of the no-holds-barred wrestling match in this tumultuous yet graceful composition. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 47.


From the artist to Marcel Duchamp, Paris, 1926; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 8, 1926, lot 10, illus.; purchased by André Breton, Paris [1]; sold to Louise and Walter C. Arensberg, Los Angeles, through the Museum of Modern Art, New York, November 1937 [2]; gift to PMA, 1950. 1. Although Duchamp played the role of "owner", the auction was in fact a sale of eighty works from Picabia's own collection; see Borràs, Picabia, New York, 1985, p. 288 and p. 295-6. A contemporary newspaper account by Maurice Monda recorded the buyers and prices: see William Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times, Princeton, 1979, p. 217, n. 10. See also Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, André Breton: La beauté convulsive (exh. cat., Musée national d'art moderne), Paris, 1991, p. 494; and William Camfield, Francis Picabia (exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum), New York, 1970, no. 33, p. 79. 2. Purchased by the Arensbergs from the Museum of Modern Art exhibition, "Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism," to which Breton had lent the painting (see letters from the Museum of Modern Art dated 2 November and 12 November 1951, PMA Arensberg Archives, CA Use Tax correspondence). See also letter from Walter Arensberg to Marcel Duchamp, Oct. 27, 1937: "By the way, we hope to get from the Modern Museum Picabia's Catch as Catch Can...." (PMA Arensberg Archives).