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Audio: Sam Francis, Red and Pink
Sam Francis (1923-1994)
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Sam Francis (1923-1994)

Red and Pink

Details
Sam Francis (1923-1994)
Red and Pink
oil on canvas
80 1/8 x 65 7/8 in. (203.5 x 167.3 cm.)
Painted in 1950-51.
Provenance
Mrs. Wellington S. Henderson, Hillsborough, 1968
Her sale; Sotheby's, New York, 14 November 2007, lot 53
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature
P. Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, pp. 138-139 and 255, pl. 66 (illustrated in color).
P. Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1982, pp. 34 and 150-151, pl. 72 (illustrated in color).
Contemporary Great Masters, exh. cat., Tokyo, 1994, pl. 8 (illustrated).
Sam Francis: Les années parisiennes 1950–1961, exh. cat., Paris:, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, 1995, p. 180 (illustrated in color).
D. Burchett-Lere, ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, p. 36, fig. 39, cat. no. 89, DVD I (illustrated in color)
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Nina Dausset, Sam Francis: Peintures, February 1952.
Kunsthalle Bern; Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Sam Francis, May-October 1960, no. 3.
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume, Art e Contemplazione, July-October 1961.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center and Art Gallery of Toronto, Post Painterly Abstraction, April-December 1964, no. 31.
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Sam Francis: A Retrospective Exhibition, October-November 1967, p. 29, no. 1 (illustrated).
San Francisco Museum of Art, Museum Collections: Recent Acquisitions in Painting and Sculpture, May–July 1970.
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and Oakland Museum, Sam Francis: Paintings 1947 - 1972, September 1972-August 1973, p. 43, no. 12, (illustrated).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Collectors, Collecting, Collection: American Abstract Art Since 1945, April–June 1977.
Bonn, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Sam Francis, February-April 1993, pp. 74-75 (illustrated in color).
Laguna Art Museum; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and New York, National Academy of Design, The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism, January 1996-March 1997, p. 74, fig. 3.12 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art and Houston, Menil Collection, Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, March 1999-January 2000, pp. 51 and 58, pl. 6 (illustrated in color).

Special Notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Post Lot Text
This work is registered with the Sam Francis Estate as archive number SF51-2.

Sam Francis’ mastery of ethereal chromatic atmosphere is clear in the delicately rendered clustered cells of aqueous pinks that the lays out across the surface of this exquisite canvas. A luminous essay in tonality, the surface pulsates with shades of red melding into white, the pink scale dissolving as drips and pools of color shift into transparency. At sudden moments pigment settles into the lower corner of the individual ovoids, darkening the outer edge as cells join and separate seemingly at random, creating a sense of an allover aura of exquisite cloud covering. The quiet rhythmic fluctuations between high and low-value hues is interrupted by the deeper red surrounded by a highly saturated yellow in the upper left corner—a darker incursion that introduces a touch of drama to the expanse of wafting pinks and whites.

Red and Pink was the first painting that Francis completed upon his move to Paris in 1950. Later that same year, Marguerite Matisse (daughter of Henri Matisse) and her husband the critic and philosopher Georges Duthuit, invited to Francis to Provence, where the translucent light and color impacted the chromatic vigor of his canvases. Back in Paris, the tonal atmosphere of the skyscapes turned the artist toward the production of monochromes in grey and white, mimicking the film of mist and clouds in the gray and white expanses of his canvases. Writing to his father and stepmother from Paris, Francis commented on the change his works had undergone upon his move abroad, in which his sense of perspective shifted to aerial views. “The paintings have become…much more cosmological in feeling and of much greater spatial expansion. Ambivalent spaces seem to be bounded yet unlimited. And also some that seem to be limited in a certain sense I can’t explain and yet unbounded by a frame. There is at any rate a mystery there that one sometimes feels in looking, or rather contemplating, some of the more successful paintings” (S. Francis, Letter to his father and stepmother in Los Altos, California, January 18, 1952, “Letters and Texts Selected by Sam Francis,” in P. Hulten, Sam Francis, Bonn, 1993, p. 48).

Francis’ ability to gather a mosaic of color into a single unified image comes in part from the phenomenal knowledge he gained while receiving training as an Army Air Corp pilot. Aerial views became second nature to him, although he spent most of the war in a body cast confined to a hospital bed, at first due to a spinal injury and then to a diagnosis of spinal tuberculosis. It was there that Francis worked devotedly in watercolor, positioning the paper on the floor in such a way that mimicked long-range perspective. But it was the play of light on the ceiling, the dawn sky and sunset sky effects over the Pacific, when his cot was wheeled out on the hospital balcony, that informed not only the watercolors he was to do, but all his later art. It was “… not just the play of light, but the substance of which light is made,” that would become the underlying thematic of Francis’s paintings and which can be seen to extraordinary effect in the Red and Pink, 1951 (J. J. Sweeney, “Sam Francis,” in Sam Francis, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1967, n. p.).

When Francis moved to Paris on the GI Bill after studies at the University of California, Berkeley, he continued in the same vein, using color as the primary vehicle of expression. Other influences affecting Francis’s cellular patterns come out of the biomorphic forms found in Surrealist artists to which he was exposed in Paris, as well as to the Informel artists, such as Michel Tapié de Celeyran, who in 1952 included Francis in the exhibitions, “Significants de L’informel” and “Un art autre” that featured works of the American and Parisian contemporary artists. From Surrealism Francis adopted automatic gestural practices while absorbing the abstract sensibilities of the Parisian Art Informel, a loosely defined art movement that emphasized intuition and spontaneous structures. Francis was also affected by Tachism, which rejected traditional tools of paintings, after the model of Jackson Pollock’s pours and drips. Another important influence were the works of the circle of other young painters from the United States living in Paris, among them Joan Mitchell and in particular, Jean-Paul Riopelle, whose fiercely compacted matrix of chromatic cubes and triangles affected Francis’s own kidney-shaped accumulation of pigmented cells. In addition, the oscillating light patterns in Monet’s Nymphéas moved Francis toward his own matrix of interlocking undulating cellular structures.

Red and Pink is that work which resonates both historically and in the present. In its surfaces and textures, Francis gathered influences from his American and Canadian contemporaries as well as from historical figures from Paris’s recent past. Art historian Pierre Schneider, who knew Francis in Paris, claimed that self-expression was not foremost in the minds of American expatriate artists at the time, but rather it was a “conditioning of space, so that the viewers would find new energies when experiencing the work” (P. Schneider, in conversation with Peter Selz, Paris, October 9, 1972, in P. Selz, Sam Francis, New York 1975, p. 42).

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