This essay explores the untold histories opened up by Francis Picabia's painting The Spanish Night, 1922. Out of place within Dada but clearly in dialogue with the work of Marcel Duchamp and parodying conservative or neo-classical styles of painting but also undermining the avant-garde tactics of a still-nascent Surrealism, Picabia's canvas has been too simply dismissed as part of the artist's own return to figuration, a sudden retrenchment and embrace of a vehement anti-modernism. Instead, the work seethes with connection to underground tactics moving between Dada and Surrealism, and it establishes a formal structure that determines Picabia's painting for the following decades. This essay identifies and attempts to name the formal tactics of the work, tracing their implications for other artists—from Surrealism into the present moment. Among the other people and concepts discussed are William Copley, Man Ray, Hubert Damisch, Robert Desnos, the “return to order,” figuration, kitsch, Surrealism, Superrealism, and bad painting.

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