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    Sale 2167

    Post War and Contemporary Evening Sale

    13 May 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 12

    Sam Francis (1923-1994)


    Price Realised  


    Sam Francis (1923-1994)
    signed, titled and dated 'Sam Francis Grey 1954' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    119 x 75¾ in. (302.3 x 192.4 cm.)
    Painted in 1954.

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    First exhibited in Dorothy Miller's landmark exhibition 12 Americans, at the Museum of Modern Art, Grey is an important painting dating from the height of Sam Francis' breakthrough years when he was working in Paris. With its dark fragile border, defining the edges of a shimmering grey mass of color and light, it shares similarities, despite its name, among the artist's highly-regarded "Black" paintings of the early 1950s. A fluid and amorphous work that uses color to create an evocative but also enigmatic spatial entity, its bright and shimmering center appears to radiate with energy while at the same time playing with the viewer's perception and the intrinsically transient nature of light itself.

    It was while hospitalised and bed-ridden after an airplane crash in 1943 that Francis had first become fascinated by light, seeing it as the quintessential "material" of life while watching, for days on end, the patterns it made and its shimmering play across the ceiling of his hospital room. What interested him most, and what continued to drive his work well into the 1950s, was what he described as the material "quality of light itself, not just the play of light, but the substance of which light is made." (S. Francis, quoted in P. Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, p. 34).

    Towards this end Francis was also greatly influenced by the pioneering use of color and light in the work of Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and, in particular, Pierre Bonnard. His move to Paris in 1950 led to color becoming temporarily expunged from his work as Francis, who was always very sensitive to light, immediately reacted strongly to what he described as the hazy "beautiful cerulean grey" light of the Paris sky. There, throughout the early 1950s, and although he had seen no monochrome paintings at this time, he soon established a reputation as what Time magazine described as the "hottest young painter" in the city with his paintings concentrating on only one color, usually white or grey.

    Grey is a work that stands at the heart of Francis' concerns from this period. Reflecting the artist's detached and deeply spiritual and meditative approach to art, the subtly differentiated coloring of the cell-like forms of the painting seems also to articulate a living material essence at the center of the work - a mystical portrait of light itself pouring onto the surface of the canvas. At the same time, this apparently infinite and boundless entity is confined by the thin febrile border of predominantly black and brightly colored cells at the edge.


    Acquired from the artist by the present owner on 13 October 1967

    Pre-Lot Text



    S. Frigerio, "Art et Contemplation au Palais Grassi, Venise," Aujourd'hui, October 1961, no. 6, p. 36.
    F. Meyer, "Sam Francis," Quadrum, 1961, no. 10, p. 123 (illustrated).
    Y. Tono, Sam Francis: The Flesh of Mist, Tokyo, 1964, pp. 20-21 (illustrated in color).
    Y. Michaud, Sam Francis, Paris, 1992, p. 75 (illustrated in color).


    New York, Museum of Modern Art, Twelve Americans, May-September 1956, p. 25 (illustrated).
    Tokyo, Toyoko (Hyakkaten) Department Store Gallery and Osaka, Kintetsu Department Store Gallery, Sam Francis, October 1957.
    New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, Sam Francis, November-December 1958.
    San Francisco Museum of Art; Pasadena Art Museum and Seattle Art Museum, Paintings by Sam Francis, Wally Hedrick and Fred Martin; Sculpture by Wally Hendrick and Manuel Neri, February-May 1959, no. 11.
    Bern, Kunsthalle, Sam Francis, May-June 1960, no. 19 (illustrated).
    Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Arte e Contemplazione, July-October 1961, n.p. (illustrated in color).
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1964 (on extended loan).
    Houston, Museum of Fine Arts and Berkeley, University Art Museum, Sam Francis: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 1967-February 1968, p. 36, fig. 12 (illustrated).
    Basel, Kunsthalle; Karlsruhe, Bädischer Kunstverein and Amsterdam, Stedilijk Museum, Sam Francis, April-November 1968, nos. 15, 22, and 26.
    Paris, Centre national d'art contemporain, Sam Francis, December 1968-January 1969, p. 23, fig. 10 (illustrated).
    Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Individuals: A Selected History of Contemporary Art, December 1986-January 1988, p. 343.
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Geffen Contemporary; Houston, The Menil Collection; Malmö, Konsthall; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Rome, Galleria Communale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, March 1999-January 2001, p. 68, pl. 16 (illustrated in color).