Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia: The Eyes of the Avant-Garde


Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia is no more than a reference to many writers discussing the avant-garde period, and particularly Dadaism. Born in France in 1881, she grew up with musical aspirations and attended Schola Cantorum, a liberal and controversial center of music in France, directed by Vincent d’Indy. While studying and practicing, d’Indy became an influence on her liberating and daring practices (Kamenish 39). Between 1908 and 1909, Gabrielle Buffet met and married Francis Picabia. In his analysis of Francis Picabia’s life, William Camfield discusses how Buffet influenced and even accelerated Picabia’s desire and transition to produce more imaginative, reflective, and radically abstract modern art. However, Picabia’s biggest artist relationship appears to be with Marcel Duchamp, who the couple meets around 1910. Buffet claimed the two men to be the primary innovators of Dada and described their relationship: “‘their difference of temperament and conception… drove them to the limits of logical decomposition. They became engaged in an extraordinary contest of paradoxical and destructive statements, words of blasphemy and inhumanity that did not merely attack the old myths of art but the very foundations of life in general’” (Gibson).

Buffet is mostly valued for her “refreshingly unprejudiced analysis of the period,” but she also had many works including “scholarly analyses of contemporary music and art…to an experimental prose and verse”  (Kamenish 40, 47). For example, her work was observant of the artistic and cultural themes indirectly, in pieces like her “Petit Manifeste,” in which she embodies “the teasing spirit of Dada” with lines like: “That frightening noise is the beating of your heart” (Kamenish 46). In two of her essays, “Arthur Cravan and American Dada” and “Some memories of Pre-Dada: Picabia and Duchamp,” Buffet mirrors the form of her writing with the subject of her writing. In her essay on Arthur Cravan she ends the essay with, “the end of this amazing figure will never be cleared up” (Motherwell 17). In the essay about Picabia, Duchamp and Dada, she ends with “Dada vanished one fine day” (Motherwell 267). Both pieces end with an uncertain and inconclusive feeling, just as the subjects of the essays have. By doing so she embraced the very nihilistic spirit she described the 391 publication as having, because it is “‘without other aim than to have no aim’” (Hofmann).

Furthermore, as a clear participant of avant-garde and more specific Dada movement, Buffet was naturally one of many artists and writers present at “33 West Sixty-seventh Street,” otherwise known as Louise and Walter Arensberg’s apartment (Burke 213). Larry Witham delves into the habits at these gatherings and asserts that “art, sex, and alcohol” and “chess” became the language in Arensberg’s circle (114). Buffet and Picabia attended as guests of Duchamp, and this is most likely the setting in which Buffet and Mina Loy became acquainted – as well as many other artists including, Arthur Cravan, Germaine Everling (Picabia’s mistress), Edgard Varése, Albert Gleizes and wife Juliette Gleizes, Juliette Roche, Jean Crotti, Suzanne Duchamp, Pan Ray, Joseph Stelle, Morton Schamberg, and everyone who gathered at Louise and Walter Arensberg’s place (Kamenish 41).

An area that Buffet and Loy seemed to bond over was in their questioning of Duchamp’s intentions in some of his scandalous and harsh remarks about women (Burke 217). Though their opinion of a man may have bonded them, ironically, their relationship ended over their opinion of another man, Arthur Cravan, who Loy had a romantic relationship with. After Buffet “published a memoir of Cravan that was largely complementary but expressed doubt about the reasons for his disappearance, Mina cut her dead” (Burke 381). Although this “cutting” of Buffet out of Loy’s life seems dramatic, it implies their relationship was closer than it appears, because if Buffet was someone that Loy was not close to then she probably would not care about what she wrote very much. Additionally, in the same piece Buffet wrote that Loy told her that she went looking for Cravan when he disappeared, whether or not this was figurative or literal, it suggests that Loy and Buffet’s relationship was personal enough for Loy to confide in her.

In Buffet’s later years, she participated in the French Resistance and sheltered Allied parachutists and escaped prisoners of war, and hid documents for the Belgian secret service (Kamenish 51). Her passion for whatever she was involved during any time in her life is uncontroversial. However, she is most remembered and praised for her “invaluable reflections on the rise and spread of the avant-garde on both continents” (Kamenish 38). Her work is successful and interesting in providing professors, students, and scholars internationally a window into the social, cultural, and political world of primary figures during her lifetime.

Bio Template:

    • Name – Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia (sometimes referred to as Gabi Picabia)
    • Date of Birth – 1881 (Kamenish 37)
    • Place of Birth – France
    • Date of Death – 1985 (Kamenish 37)
    • Place of Death – France
    • Country of origin, citizenship – France
    • Gender – Woman
    • Race – French
    • Kind of Artist/Cultural worker – Musician, art critic and writer
    • Address in Florence or New York – There was not a specific address found. However, Picabia (and therefore Gabrielle) was said to have spent time with Alfred Stieglitz at his Gallery 291 on Fifth avenue (Francis Picabia: Biography). Additionally, she and her husband are known to have been at Arensberg’s apartment (Burke 213).
    • Dates & Places of Overlap with Loy:
      • They might have met as guests at Arensberg’s apartment at “33 West Sixty-seventh Street” (Burke 213). This is likely because it is known by various sources that they both attended at some point, additionally, they both were friends of Duchamp, who often had french friends attend.
      • Though I don’t know exactly when Buffet and Loy became acquaintances, it can be implied that they were somewhat close because of Loy’s romance with Arthur Cravan and Buffet’s relationship with Cravan. Also, Loy told Gabi that she “looked for [Cravan] after the Armistice in every possible place of its kind” when he disappeared, and it seems odd that she would give up this information to someone she did not trust (Burke 285).
      • Additionally,“after Gabi Picabia published a memoir of Cravan that was largely complementary but expressed doubt about the reasons for his disappearance, Mina cut her dead” (Burke 381). If they weren’t close there would be no ties to “cut.”
  • Avant-garde movements the figure was associated with – Most prominently, Dadaism. She “witnessed and recorded the birth, evolution, and demise of Parisian Dada” (Kamenish 38).
  • Biographical/Historical significance – She is often thought of as, Francis Picabia’s wife, however, she is quoted very, very often when discussing avant-garde artists because of her descriptive observations. Additionally, during WWII she and her daughter Janine were involved in the Resistance movement; she sheltered Allied parachutists and escaped prisoners of war, and hid documents for the Belgian secret service (Kamenish 51).
  • Figure’s Relationship to Loy: They appear to be no more than friends in the same circle, who turned into enemies (at least in Loy’s eyes).
  • What was the nature of their overlap or connection? Loy, Buffet, and Juliette Gleizes appear to be friendly intellectuals through their connection of Duchamp and his circle.
  • Was it social, literary, artistic? Were they involved in collaborative ventures? I have not found any evidence of them collaborating, however, they seem to have similar perspectives when it came to Duchamp’s work, for they were “the only ones to question [Duchamp’s] intentions” (Burke 217).
  • What other artists/writers did your figure come in contact with? 
    • Guillaume Apollinaire – Luna Park, France, May 1914 (Adoc-photos)
    • Francis Picabia
    • Marcel Duchamp
    • Arthur Cravan
    • Germaine Everling (Picabia’s mistress)
    • Edgard Varése (music school and apartment)
    • Mina Loy
    • Through connection of Duchamp – Albert Gleizes and wife Juliette Gleizes, Juliette Roche, Jean Crotti, Suzanne Duchamp, Pan Ray, Joseph Stelle, Morton Schamberg, and everyone who gathered at Louise and Walter Arensberg’s place (Kamenish 41).


Works Cited:

Adoc-photos. “Francis Picabia, Gabrielle Buffet and Guillaume Apollinaire.” Getty Images, Corbis Historical, 1 May 1914,

Anglim, Paul. “From A Conversation with Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia.” David Baptiste Chirot Blogspot, 12 June 2009,

Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: the Life of Mina Loy. Harper Collins Canada Ltd., 1996. Print.

Camfield, William A. Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1979, pp. 14, 15, 17, 91, 92, 105, 110, 112. Print.

Craft, Catherine. An Audience of Artists: Dada, Neo-Dada, and the Emergence of Abstract Expressionism. The University of Chicago Press, 2012, Chicago, pp. 19-24. Print.

“Francis Picabia: Biography.” Site Officiel De Francis Picabia, The Picabia Committee, 2016,

Gibson, Michael, and International Herald Tribune. “Francis Picabia, Awful Artist and Provocateur of Genius.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2002,

Hofmann, Irene E. “Documents of Dada and Surrealism: Dada and Surrealist Journals in the Mary Reynolds Collection.” The Art Institute of Chicago Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, The Art Institute of Chicago, Apr. 2010,

Kamenish, Paula K. Mamas of Dada: Women of the European Avant-Garde. University of South Carolina Press, 2015. Print.

Motherwell, Robert, editor. The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology. Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., 1951, pp. 13-17, 255-267. Print.

Pearlstein, Philip. “When the Dada Daddies Got Real; Or, How I Turned Picabia Inside Out.” The Brooklyn Rail, The Brooklyn Rail, 1 Feb. 2017,

Terraroli, Valerio, editor. “The End of the Artistic Object – Dada Revolution.” 1900-1919 the Avant-Garde Movements. Skira, Italy, 2006, pp. 388, 389. Print.

Witham, Larry. Picasso and the Chess Player. University Press of New England, 2012, pp. 112-118,

5 Comments on “Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia: The Eyes of the Avant-Garde”

  1. Dr. Churchill mentioned in class, that due to the lack of accessible information on Buffet, you may well become the world’s leading expert on her, and I’d believe it! I’m really interested in Buffet’s early involvement with music, since this interest seems uncommon amongst other Modernist figures. I would be excited to know more about this and her later involvement in the French Resistance. Both are intriguing bits of information and I’m curious as to if/how music influences Buffet’s involvement in Modernism and if Buffet’s involvement in Modernism influenced her decision to work with the French resistance. Also, great analysis of Buffet’s writing! Careful analysis helps the bio come “alive” a bit more and encourages the reader to interpret the work of the figure, rather than just mindlessly reading facts about the figure.

  2. Terrific job amassing research on an important but neglected figure. You assemble a lucid, compelling, and engaging narrative. I’ve put some suggestions on In revising, I’d suggest you trust your own voice a bit more and rely less heavily on quotations. Also I’m eager to learn about her divorce from Picabia and whether she remarried, had children, why she went to France, etc… A few more facts about her later life would round out this bio nicely.

  3. Bean, you’ve done a brilliant job, both in terms of sleuthing and constructing a narrative! I’m really impressed with the way you chose a difficult figure — not only did you find some great info about Buffet, the way you’ve put together the narrative is clear and effective (my Hypothesis notes are mostly copy-editing.) As a larger comment — this may be a personal stylistic preference, but I’ve been taught to avoid ending a paragraph with a quotation, and I think that advice could hold even for an expository piece such as this one. Maybe add a sentence after each quotation at the end of a paragraph to tie up your analysis of the quotation’s relationship with everything else in the paragraph? I’d also love to hear a little more about her wartime activities (just because that sounds fascinating!), but I really like the way you tie up your narrative in both the introductory and concluding paragraphs. Really well done!

  4. Bean, I have so much admiration for your ability to present yourself with a really tough challenge and put something really fascinating together. I think one of the most effective strategies you’ve employed that where there is a lack of biographical research information you use her work to position her within the movements she was a part of and you used it to tell us more about her ideas and who she was as a person. I agree with Suzanne that you can use your own voice to flesh out those ideas, but this is really fascinating and incredible!

  5. Bean, this is a very well-written first draft. I really don’t have much criticism to offer here, just a few ideas. While I see the basis for Dr. Churchill’s suggestion that you rely on your own voice over quotations, I enjoyed how you managed to make this piece equal parts analysis as well as biography. As you replace whichever quotations you choose to eliminate, I encourage you to preserve the analytical dimension of the second paragraph, as it communicated Buffet-Picabia’s style and approach to avant-garde writing with a clarity that a purely biographical account might not have been able to achieve.

    Your examination of Buffet-Picabia’s friendship and falling out with Loy is also particularly illuminating. While you should emphasize your voice over quotations, it might be interesting to include a line or two of correspondence between these two women, if they wrote to each other much. I look forward to reading your final draft!

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