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Composition abstraite

Composition abstraite
signed ‘Serge Poliakoff’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
116 x 89 cm. (45 5/8 x 35 in.)
Painted in 1952
Galerie Bing, Paris.
Collection of Dr. M. Meyer-Mahler, Zurich (acquired from the above in 1954).
Collection Dr. Franz Meyer, Zurich.
Private Collection, Zurich.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
F. Meyer, Dr. Franz Meyer Neujahrsblatt der Zurcher Kunstgesellschaft, Zurich, Switzerland, 1963 (illustrated in colour, p. 45).
Serge Poliakoff retrospective: 1938-1963, exh. cat., London, UK, Whitechapel Gallery, 1963, p. 18, no. 17.
A. Poliakoff (ed.), Serge Poliakoff Catalogue Raisonne Volume I 1922-1954, Munich, Germany, 2010, no. 52-11 (illustrated in colour, p. 400).
Bern, Switzerland, Kunsthalle Bern, Serge Poliakoff, April - May 1960, no. 49.
London, UK, Whitechapel Gallery, Serge Poliakoff, April - May 1963, no. 17.
Hanover, Germany, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Serge Poliakoff, June - July 1963, no. 10. This exhibition later travelled to Bremen, Germany, Kunstverein, September - October 1963; Dortmund, Germany, Museum am Ostwall, November - December 1963; Lubeck, Germany, Overbeck Gesellschaft, December 1963 - January 1964; Stuttgart, Germany, Wurttembergischer Kunstverein, January - March 1964; Bonn, Germany, Haus der Stadtischen-Kunstsammlungen, March – April 1964 and Trier, Germany, Stadtisches Museum, April – May 1964.
St. Gallen, Switzerland, Kunstmuseum, Serge Poliakoff, June - July 1966, no. 18.
Tel Aviv, Israel, Tel Aviv Museum, Serge Poliakoff, December 1971 - February 1972, no. 6.

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Lot Essay

Painted in 1952, Serge Poliakoff’s Composition abstraite (abstract composition) is a masterful balance of coloured planes set against a rich orange ground. Three, larger interlocking forms surround an oblong red, and his colour palette was partially inspired by the Renaissance frescoes he saw while traveling in Italy; to achieve such saturated hues, Poliakoff would often blend his own pigments. He was an ‘unequalled colourist’ (G. Kerlidou, ‘Poliakoff and the Russian Connection’, Hyperallergic, March 29, 2014). His practice was underpinned by a lifelong search for perfect chromatic harmony, what the artist referred to as le silence complet or the complete silence. ‘Space,’ he said, ‘not the artist, must model the forms. They must be part-sculpture, part-architecture. Geometric form must turn into organic form, and it’s the inward pressure of space that does that. Space makes form-not the other way around’ (Serge Poliakoff quoted in Serge Poliakoff. Retrospective: 1938-1963, exh. cat., Whitechapel Gallery, London 1963, p. 15.)

Poliakoff was born in Moscow in 1900, but fled to the West in the wake of the Russian Revolution. He emigrated to Paris, becoming what Clement Greenberg would derisively call, a ‘French artist’. His rise, however, was meteoric, and seen as the heir apparent to Kandinsky’s lyrical abstractions, Poliakoff gained widespread popularity in his adopted home, inspiring the young artist who would form the French Nouveaux Realistes. Although his work was profoundly influenced by Kandinsky as well as Malevich, Poliakoff’s paintings were also rooted in Orthodox Catholicism, an influence evident in the cruciform geometries which echo religious icons. Indeed, Poliakoff’s practice was rooted in diasporic longing, a fusion of East and West that played out on the canvas, and the planar forms evoke both Russian traditions and vibrancy of modern Paris. Composition abstraite rests in perfect equilibrium, each form held together by the weight of the whole composition, a striking endeavour of perfect chromatic unity.

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