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This was originally a relatively naturalistic portrait of a man pointing to a skull, the traditional reminder of death. After it was returned unsold, Picabia chose to obliterate the features of the face, transforming it into a void overlaid with strange symbols that may have been derived from medieval Catalan frescos. Picabia surrounded his figure with sexually-suggestive hanging objects based on these symbols, while the horns are a reference to cuckoldry. The misleading date ‘1925’ was also painted in later, reflecting Picabia’s subversive sense of humour.

July 2008