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    Sale 1903

    Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    13 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 41

    Sam Francis (1923-1994)

    Broken Black

    Price Realised  


    Sam Francis (1923-1994)
    Broken Black
    signed and dated 'Sam Francis 1954' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    67¼ x 34¾ in. (170.8 x 88.3 cm.)
    Painted in 1954.

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    This work is registered with the Sam Francis Foundation as archive number SFP54-9 and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné, Sam Francis: Canvas Paintings 1945-1994, edited by Debra Burchett-Lere.

    "I cannot imagine starting a painting with an idea. I have to start with a thing, a thing to touch -- the canvas, the paint. Years ago I would start a painting with a shadow. The sun would shine on it and I would start with the accident of the shadow."

    A luminous painting from the early classic period of Francis' oeuvre, Broken Black was painted in Paris. The artist moved there to live and work in 1950, leaving the California Bay Area. In spite of being recognized by Clement Greenberg and associated critically with the New York Abstract Expressionist painters, Francis left America for Europe to develop his unique vision at that pivotal time.

    Francis' painting is always informed by attention to balances of color, and intermingling of lights and darks. In Broken Black he achieved qualities of illumination through his signature layered washes of transparent color and use of scale. From this same period in the mid to late fifties Francis composed paintings that were almost white on white. He commented on the way that the practice of Tai Chi refers to centeredness. Francis' natural identification with Eastern aesthetics and philosophy would later come to full fruition when he went to Tokyo in 1957 to execute a commission from Sofu Teshigahara for a mural at the Sogetsu School of ikebana (flower arranging). After that, his involvement with Japan lasted throughout his life.

    Francis returned to California in the early sixties remarking that, "Los Angeles is the best for me for light in my work. New York light is hard. Paris light is a beautiful cerulean gray. But Los Angeles light is clear and bright even in haze" (S. Francis, quoted in W. C. Agee, Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, exh. cat., The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1999, p. 147). Francis was absorbed in the way light's qualities are transmitted. This, and his layering of washes of color and his distinctive marking are all masterfully demonstrated in this work.


    Martha Jackson Gallery, New York
    Mrs. Walter Ross, New York
    Mrs. Charles G. Stachelberg, New York
    Museum of Modern Art, New York
    M. Knoedler & Co., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note this work is signed and dated 'Sam Francis 1954' (on the reverse).

    Pre-Lot Text



    P. Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1982, p. 163, no. 85 (illustrated).


    Washington, D.C., Philips Gallery, Paintings by Sam Francis, October-November 1958.
    New York, Museum of Modern Art, New Acquisitions, September-November 1968.
    New York, Museum of Modern Art, April-May 1971.
    St. Petersburg, The Museum of Fine Arts and Tallahassee, Le Moyne Art Foundation, Flowing Form: An Exhibition, January-May 1973.
    Basel, Galerie Beyeler, America America, October-December 1976, no. 14, n.p.
    Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Centre d'estudis d'art contemporani, America America, April-June 1977, p. 53, no. 9.
    New York, Robert Elkon Gallery, Francis: The Fifties, October-November 1979, no. 6 (illustrated).
    Washington, D.C., The Philips Collection, Sam Francis-The Fifties, March-April 1980, p. 15, no. 9 (illustrated).