Francis Picabia painted Portrait of a Doctor in 1935 but substantially reworked it shortly after. These two separate campaigns of work exemplify his ability to change styles in quick succession and to challenge directly the accepted notions of continuities in an artist’s production. In the painting’s present state, the figure is partially obscured by signs which were overlaid when the canvas was reworked. Early photographs prove that the misleading inscription ‘1925’ was also an addition, and this is indicative of Picabia’s mischievous subversion of artistic conventions.
The original composition was a relatively realistic, half-length portrait of a balding man in a white shirt. The elements were simplified, with emphasis placed on the heavy outlines. The doctor, who has been identified as Picabia’s friend Dr Raulot-Lapointe, is shown pointing at a skull in the foreground. This detail serves as amemento mori (reminder of mortality) and recalls Hamlet’s soliloquy over Yorrick’s skull in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act 5, Scene 1).