'In 1960, the initiate of the path of fire (Yves Klein) feels the need to settle on a nuance to this colour that will be personal to him. Which will he choose?...Yves chooses madder rose of which the most representative example is the sponge relief RE22, Le Rose du bleu ... Having thus acquired the third element, Yves Klein can, from now on, present the cosmological trilogy of personal transmutation of colours: ultramarine-blue IKB, gold, and pink ... The transfer to monopink in the monochrome trilogy is revealing. Madder rose represents the Holy Spirit before the gold of the Father and the blue of the Son; gold for immortality and blue for sensibility... The introduction of the monopink element in the Monochrome Painter's practice emphasizes a renewal of sensuality in the Anthropometries and Shrouds...'
(P. Restany, Fire in the Heart of the Void, New York, 2005, pp. 24-26).
'All three live in one and the same state, each impregnated in the other, all being perfectly independent from one another.'
(Yves Klein quoted in S. Stich Yves Klein, Cologne, 1995, p. 194).
'My desire was to present... an opening on the world of the colour represented, an open window on ones freedom to saturate oneself, in an infinite, unlimited way, with the immeasurable state of colour. I wanted to offer the public a possibility of the illumination of pictorial, essential colour matter, impregnated with which all physical things, stones, rocks, bottles, clouds, become a pretext for the voyage of human sensitivity'(Y. Klein quoted in Yves Klein exh. cat., Institute for the Arts, Houston, Yves Klein Retrospective, 1982, p. 223).
Le Rose du bleu (RE 22), originally part of the legendary Menil collection of Yves Klein, is one of the defining masterpieces of Yves Kleins diverse, eclectic and highly influential body of work. It has been included in every major Yves Klein exhibition that has taken place. A vast, nearly two-metre-high monochrome canvas spectacularly adorned with nine massive sea-sponges and thousands of scattered pebbles to form a magical organic and otherworldly landscape both saturated by and radiating a deep rose madder hue, it is by far the largest and most important example of the series of monochrome pink sponge-reliefs that Klein first began to make in 1960.
With its poetic and mysterious title of Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) ('The Rose of Blue') this work is also a signature example not only of the series to which it belongs but also of the unique colour theory that came to dominate and distinguish so much of the work that Klein made during the last two years of his life. From the golden tomb-like Ci-gît l'espace to the large multicoloured Shrouds, Anthropometries, fire-sculptures and his final Fire-Colour paintings, almost all of Klein's most important late works make explicit reference to this spiritual concept of a blue-gold-pink trinity of colour. And, it was as an exemplar of this colour-theory that Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) was first exhibited alongside other selected masterpieces from his oeuvre at the great retrospective exhibition of Klein's work held at the Haus Lange in Krefeld in January 1961.
Klein gave titles to only a select few of his favourite and most important works. The rare and enigmatic title of Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) with its suggestion of the rose or pink colour of the work seemingly arising into being from the 'Blue' refers to Klein's notion of 'immaterial' blue, 'immortal' gold and 'corporeal' rose or pink, collectively forming an interdependent sacred trilogy of colours. This was a theory Klein first devised around 1959, and within its context, the colour pink was seen as representative of the material resurrection of the presence of the immaterial in the body or the flesh. With their absorptive and highly material 'living' sponges affixed to a monochrome plane of colour, Klein's sponge-reliefs are the quintessential (ultramarine International Klein Blue) but within the context of Klein's spiritual trinity of colour, the corporeal, material colour of rose or pink, became, as the title of Re 22 directly suggests, as appropriate a colour, if not indeed a more fitting one, than the blue.
Looking partly like a Martian landscape and partly like a mysterious organic constellation of a new Nature, Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) is a work that magnificently reflects Klein's aim of demonstrating the resonating immaterial energy of colour almost actively in the process of materialising itself physically through the sponge and the mysterious domain of the sponge relief. With their imposing, organic elements and the strong material projection into the three-dimensional space of the viewer, the sea-sponges - creatures that Klein described as 'savage, living, breathing, forms' - are saturated with a rich immaterial essence which, in the deep and resonant hue of the rose-madder pigment chosen for Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) evokes a sense of the colour of flesh, or blood, or even Eucharistic wine. Materializing such deep, resonant but ultimately immaterial colour within the ambiguous and mysterious space established by Klein's poetic fusion of painting and sculpture, it is in this respect that Klein's monochrome pink sponge-reliefs form perhaps the highest expression of the artist's spiritually orientated concept of the material resurrection of the immaterial in all of his oeuvre. Klein's singular entitling of Le Rose du bleu (RE 22), by far his most ambitious pink sponge-relief, was also clearly intended to reinforce this transmutative aspect of these works.
Executed in 1960, Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) is the defining example from a series of twelve pink or rose-coloured sponge-reliefs that Klein seems only to have begun making in this year. 1960 was an important year for Klein and one that, in many ways, was to mark the beginnings of the last phase of his work. It was in 1960 that Klein inaugurated both his Anthropometries and Cosmogonies and, in a number of exhibitions held towards the end of the year, such as Yves le Monochrome at the Galerie Rive Droite, also the concept of his holy trinity of colour - blue-gold-pink. It was also in the autumn of 1960 that Klein first began to make preparations, along with major new works, for what was to be both the landmark retrospective of his career to date and the inauguration of a new phase in his work using fire.
'MONOCHROME UND FEUER' IN KREFELD
Klein's exhibition at the Krefeld museum in January 1961 was the first and only retrospective exhibition of his work to be held during his lifetime. Organized in collaboration with the museum director Paul Wember who would later, in 1969, collate the catalogue raisonné of Kleins work and within which, incidentally, Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) was given particular prominence, the exhibition was a collation of all of Klein's most important works to date, some of which had been made specifically with this landmark show in mind.
Entitled by Klein, Monochrome and Fire, the Krefeld exhibition also marked the genesis of Klein's work with fire, culminating in an opening ceremony in which Klein's Fire Fountain and Wall of Fire were displayed for the first time. Along with this new element of fire, the predominant theme running through the Krefeld exhibition was Klein's spiritual trinity of colour: bluegold-pink.
In accordance with this theme of the colour trilogy, the Krefeld exhibition was organized into sections that included a blue room, a gold room and a pink room into which were also set various works displaying the trinity of colour such as his Concorde sculpture and Ci-gît l'espace. This trilogy of colour, reiterated but also segregated throughout much of the exhibition, was ultimately unified by the inauguration of the fire sculptures at the opening where, burning outside the exhibition rooms, the blue flames of the fire turning golden with pink sparks at the fringes generated a burning, immaterial energy symbolizing the three-inone unity of colour that Klein's work inside the gallery also articulated. All three live in one and the same state, Klein said of this union, each impregnated in the other, all being perfectly independent from one another. (Y. Klein quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Cologne, 1995, p. 194).
In Krefeld, Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) took centre stage as the dominant work of the pink room at the Haus Lange exhibition where it was shown alongside the smaller sponge-relief Ho-Ho, a large monopink painting, and Klein's pink rain sculpture suspended over a pink planetary relief lying on the floor. Although Klein had employed the colour pink in his work in a variety of monochrome paintings before the Krefeld exhibition, it was not really until 1960, that the full spiritual significance of the colour pink in his work as the third element of his sacred trilogy came into being. It had been first officially inaugurated by the hanging of a trinity of monochromes (IKB 1. Monogold 16 (Resonance and Monopink 116) at an exhibition at the Galerie Rive Droite in Paris in October 1960 and was to culminate in the Fire sculptures at Krefeld and the Fire Colour paintings that Klein made between 1961 and 1962.
'LE ROSE DU BLEU' AND KLEIN'S COLOUR TRINITY:
'"The Blood of sensibility is blue", says Shelley, and this is precisely what I think. The price of blood can never be silver. It must be gold. And then, as ...in Dr Robert Desoille's analysis of the waking dream, blue, gold, and pink are that of the same nature. Only between these three states can there be a fair exchange.' Yves Klein, 'The Evolution of Art Towards the Immaterial', Lecture at the Sorbonne, 3 June 1959, quoted in K. Ottmann (trans.) Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York, 2007, p. 74)
For the deeply spiritual Klein, a close follower of Max Heindel's Rosicrucian Cosmogony, the mystic trilogy of blue, gold and pink united in the flames at Krefeld held especial significance. Their unity symbolized for him both the sacred trinity of Father (gold) Son (blue) and Holy Spirit (red) and also an alchemical trinity comprising of Sun (gold), Water, (blue) and Divine Blood (red).
In his book on the central importance of fire and the colour trilogy within Klein's work entitled, Fire in the Heart of the Void, Klein's friend, colleague and champion, Pierre Restany wrote of the crucial importance of the colour pink to Klein during the last two years of his life. Its re-emergence in Kleins work as a kind of culminating and completing entity to Klein's former use of blue and gold, Restany suggests was intrinsically connected to the renewal of sensuality that had returned to Kleins work with his use of the naked human body in the Shrouds and Anthropometries that he had begun in 1960. Singling out Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) as the most representative example of what the colour pink meant to Klein, Restany also demonstrated how pink, or in fact the rose-madder pigment that he chose for works such as Le Rose du bleu (RE 22), encapsulated the idea of a mystical resurrection of the immaterial spirit in the material of the flesh. It was in this way that the blue (immaterial) could, in Klein's view, give birth to the Rose (flesh) and that a work such as Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) could signify the entire passage of the elevation of the spirit (Blue) to the celestial level of the immortal (gold) and then its rebirth or re-materialisation in the living material of flesh (pink).
Like the monochrome, the sponge, is one of the key motifs and elements in Klein's unique and often profoundly spiritual aesthetic. Klein's spongereliefs not only combine the natural, organic and earthbound form of the sponge with an ethereal and essentially abstract expanse of colour, but in their very conscious materiality and three-dimensionality they also represent the dramatic expansion of Klein's monochrome paintings into the real space of the viewer.
Often, as in Le Rose du bleu (RE 22), they are vast, textural and even visceral expanses of pure radiating colour that provide a highly physical manifestation of the inherent dialogue that Klein hoped to induce between the sensibility of the viewer and the vast monochromatic expanse of intense, but immaterial colour emanating from the surface of the work. In this way, Klein's intention with the sponge-relief was that, like the monochrome, it would serve as vehicle through which the spectators of his work could, through the mysterious, dominant and all-penetrating presence of colour, become acquainted with the immaterial. He wanted the viewers of these works, he said, to become infused with a profound sense of the universal immaterial presence of colour in the same way that his sponges were saturated with his radiant pigment.
This idea of impregnating the mind of man with a sense of the vast scale, infinite dimension and for Klein, immaterial nature of the universe or the "void", as he often chose to refer to it, was the single element that lay at the core of Klein's life and work. Through their combination of the immaterial presence of the artists blank featureless monochrome canvases with the unique and material presence of the natural sponge, Klein's sponge-reliefs are in this respect, the most eloquent synthesis of
this idea as well the finest plastic expression of his deeply Romantic and transcendental aesthetic.