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PIERRE SOULAGES (B. 1919)
PIERRE SOULAGES (B. 1919)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR
PIERRE SOULAGES (B. 1919)

Peinture 202 x 159 cm, 3 juillet 1965

Details
PIERRE SOULAGES (B. 1919)
Peinture 202 x 159 cm, 3 juillet 1965
signed and dated 'Soulages 65'' (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'SOULAGES "Peinture 202 x 159cm 3-7-65"' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
79 ½ x 62 5/8in. (202 x 159cm.)
Painted on 3 July 1965
Provenance
Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Kootz, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1965).
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1968.
Literature
P. Encrevé, Pierre Soulages, L'oeuvre complet Peintures 1959-1978, vol. II, Paris 1995, no. 561 (illustrated in colour, p. 166).
P. Ungar, Soulages in America, New York 2014 (installation view illustrated, p. 100).
Exhibited
New York, Kootz Gallery, Soulages at Kootz, 1965.
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Pierre Soulages: Retrospective Exhibition, 1966.
Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Soulages, 1967, no. 71.
Montreal, Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal, Soulages, 1968, no. 23. This exhibition later travelled to Quebec, Musée du Québec.
Special Notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
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Lot Essay

Held in the same collection since 1968, and unseen in public since that year, Peinture 202 x 159 cm, 3 juillet 1965 is a painting of luminous beauty by Pierre Soulages. It was included in the artist’s career-defining survey at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1966), followed by his first French retrospective at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris (1967), and his first Canadian retrospective at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (1968). Prior to its acquisition by the present owner, it spent three years in the personal collection of Samuel Kootz, the visionary New York-based dealer whose partnership with Soulages launched him to stardom in the United States. The composition—painted with the assurance typical of the artist’s mid-1960s period—is powerful and serene. A broad black expanse consumes much of the two-metre-high canvas; it is lit from within by glimmers of mahogany and amber, which flare out against a bone-white backdrop. This pale ground brackets the black in its lower reaches, creating a top-heavy T-shaped form. Solid, horizontal strokes scaffold the darkness up top, heightening an impression of sublime, near-architectural gravity.

From the opaque, inky gloss of the black to the pale, fresco-like ground and bright blazes of red ochre, Peinture 202 x 159 cm, 3 juillet 1965 sees Soulages exploring the full potential of oil paint’s pure physical qualities—what he has called its ‘physiognomic’ character. He does not record gesture or emotion in his brushstrokes, but arranges contrasts into a single, forceful surface that is to be apprehended in its totality. As the artist himself says: ‘I do not depict, I paint. I do not represent, I present’ (P. Soulages, quoted in F. Jaunin, Pierre Soulages: Outrenoir: Entretiens avec Françoise Jaunin, Lausanne 2014, p. 16). Soulages had made his first unified linear compositions in 1947; he realised in them that if a line did not record the duration of its making, time was brought to a standstill, and movement transformed into dynamic tension. Guided by this principle, he experimented with chiaroscuro effects and stark, interlocking beams of paint throughout the 1950s, eventually arriving at complex translucencies through the controlled layering and scraping-away of pigment. Peinture 202 x 159 cm, 3 juillet 1965 witnesses the artist at the height of his powers. The drama of the painting, which stands as tall as a person, is inescapable; its warm, dark nuances create a shadowed splendour worthy of the Old Masters.

Following several prominent group shows in the United States, Soulages had partnered with Samuel Kootz as his American dealer in 1954. Their alliance was a huge success. Kootz sold around half of the artist’s entire output for the next twelve years, his asking prices doubling twice during that period. When he staged Soulages’ second solo exhibition in May 1955, he sold all of the works before the show had even opened. ‘I have not had so enthusiastic a reception since my first post-war Picasso show in 1947 when all the pictures were sold on the first day’, Kootz wrote (Letter from Samuel Kootz to Pierre Soulages, 11 May 1955). Soulages visited New York in 1957, befriending the artists Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko. It was not until the 1960s, however, that he began to receive significant acclaim in his native country. His status there was finally affirmed in 1967, when he became the youngest artist to receive a retrospective at Paris’ Musée National d’Art Moderne. Chosen by Kootz for his own collection, and included in that first French retrospective, Peinture 202 x 159 cm, 3 juillet 1965 captures a pivotal moment of international and domestic recognition in Soulages’ career. Today, his reputation as France’s greatest living painter is secure: on the occasion of his one hundredth birthday in 2019, he was celebrated with a lifetime survey at the Musée du Louvre, an honour given only to Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall before him.

Born in Rodez in southern France in 1919, the young Soulages was spellbound by his region’s deep artistic past. Particularly captivating were the local menhirs—carved, anthropomorphic standing stones dating to the Neolithic era—and Sainte-Foy de Conques, a beautiful Romanesque abbey-church close to his hometown. Standing beneath this 11th-century building’s vast barrel vault, Soulages saw light and shadow come to life, and was inspired to become a painter. ‘Even today in Soulages’ handling of paint’, wrote James Johnson Sweeney in 1972, ‘there is something which recalls the warm darkness of that Romanesque interior of Sainte-Foy. For, there, it was no dead blackness, but a live and gently palpitating dark suffused with a subtle illumination which reached its fullness in slashes of light from the high narrow windows and the soft glow where it struck the floors and walls’ (J. Johnson Sweeney, Pierre Soulages, New York 1972, pp. 10-11). Peinture 202 x 159 cm, 3 juillet 1965 is animated by precisely the ‘warm darkness’ Sweeney describes. As curator of Soulages’ 1966 Houston retrospective, Sweeney hung many of the paintings—including the present work—free of the walls. Floating in space, and softly reflected in the museum’s polished floor, they created a near-mystical spectacle that recalled the luminous glory of Sainte-Foy.

Another profound inspiration for Soulages was the 17,000-year-old cave art of Lascaux, found in the Dordogne in 1940 by local teenagers; he was thrilled by the discovery of even older paintings in the Grotte Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, Ardèche, in 1994. To this day, his own palette has scarcely deviated from the rich, elemental reds, blacks and ochres that emerge, as if painted yesterday, from the deep shadows of prehistory. For Soulages, such rough-hewn creations are far more moving than the most elegant mimetic accomplishments of Classical art. He is impressed by their fervour and intensity, their desire to escape the fleeting. As he puts it, ‘I have always revolted against this foolishly evolutionary conception of art, which leads one to believe that there are at first awkward gropings, then that technique becomes more and more skilful and mastered ... The painters of Lascaux or Chauvet brought art to a summit from the very start’ (P. Soulages, quoted in F. Jaunin, ibid., pp. 45-46). Peinture 202 x 159 cm, 3 juillet 1965, with its bold, calligraphic stamp of red and black against ivory, has close echoes of the dark beasts found in those limestone caves; like them, it resounds with an eternal, unarguable presence.

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