Pierre Soulages (b. 1919)
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Pierre Soulages (b. 1919)

Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955

Pierre Soulages (b. 1919)
Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955
signed 'soulages' (lower right); signed and dated 'SOULAGES 3-4-55' (on the reverse)
oil on linen
51¼ x 63¾in. (130 x 162cm.)
Painted in 1955
Kootz Gallery, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Edwin E. Hokin, Highland Park, Illinois.
P. Encrevé, Soulages, L'oeuvre complet Peintures I. 1946-1959, Paris 1994, no. 182 (illustrated in colour, p. 204).
New York, Kootz Gallery, Soulages, 1955.
Paris, Galerie de France, Soulages, 1956, no. 15.
Boston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Soulages, 1962, no. 5.
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Pierre Soulages: Retrospective Exhibition, 1966.
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Lot Essay

Bold black bars of paint thrust their way across the canvas, thick zig-zagging slabs with an oily gleam against a stormy background that is broken up in places to allow glimpses of light and colour, of warm reds and of white, to peek through. Looking at the surface of Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955, painted by the great statesman of post-war French art Pierre Soulages, it is clear that this work dates from the watershed point during the mid-1950s when his abstract idiom took a new and influential turn. Now, his paintings abandoned the sense of sign-like composition that had hitherto been dominant; instead, the canvas has become a bustling arena, a dynamic forum in which the artist has probed its expanses, creating a richly textured, complex composition that conveys a sense of experience, rather than meaning. Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955 is filled with an incredible wealth of colours and forms despite the deliberate economy of means that Soulages leaves at his own disposal. This decision to eke out differences through the rich contrasts of a restrained palette would later come to new extremes in the development of the outrenoir that entered his work in the late 1970s and which continues to dominate his work to this day. Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955 prefigures the sumptuous play with light and texture that has reached such concentrated intensity in those recent works.

Soulages emerged as an artist in the wake of the Second World War; although he had painted in secret during the Occupation and indeed had struck up the friendship with fellow artist Sonia Delaunay which was to provide such a revelation in his embrace of abstraction, it was only in the late 1940s that he truly achieved his own painterly idiom. While his earlier paintings consisted of black bars that looked like calligraphic annotations, often with the background remaining relatively pale in order to thrust them into relief, during the mid-1950s the darkness began to conquer the entire pictorial field. In place of those abstract elements, a new internal energy and the probing curiosity of the artist himself resulted in compositions featuring elements such as the criss-crossing bars of dark paint that articulate so much of the surface of Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955.

Soulages often works incredibly slowly in achieving his compositions; he is a pure painter, adding stroke after stroke, sometimes abandoning the brush entirely in order to manipulate the paint with his palette knife or with other objects. Building up the surface move by move, stroke by stroke, he creates absorbing pictures that tell the tale of their own evolution and creation, and which therefore become existential markers, charting the passing of time, tracing the hand and movements of the artist himself. In Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955, that sense of the existential is all the more apparent in the dark palette, which appears to chime with the angst that had gripped so much of the European avant garde after the Second World War, for instance in the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. However, in Soulages' work, black is not used to introduce darkness, but instead because of its oily richness: in Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955, it is the use of dark contrasting tones that renders the dusky orange all the more fascinating. Likewise, areas of glistening reflectivity mean that the light bounces off the surface to ever-changing effects.

The history of Peinture 130 x 162 cm, 3 avril 1955 reflects the increasingly popular reception that Soulages was gaining on the other side of the Atlantic during the 1950s, which may have been in part due to the similarity of his visual idiom to that of his American contemporaries, the Abstract Expressionists. During the first half of the 1950s, Soulages was involved in several group exhibitions in the United States before being granted several one-man shows, not least by the Kootz Gallery which first owned this painting. It is a tribute to the links between Soulages and the United States that this picture then formed part of the collection of Edwin E. Hokin, an American collector who served as one of the trustees of the Chicago Art Institute, and that it featured in his important 1966 retrospective in Houston.

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