SAM FRANCIS (1923-1994)
SAM FRANCIS (1923-1994)
SAM FRANCIS (1923-1994)
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SAM FRANCIS (1923-1994)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
SAM FRANCIS (1923-1994)

Composition in Blue and Black

SAM FRANCIS (1923-1994)
Composition in Blue and Black
oil on canvas
77 x 51 1/4 in. (195.6 x 130.2 cm.)
Painted in 1955
Arthur Tooth & Sons Gallery, London.
E.J. Power, London.
Ronald O. Perelman, New York (acquired in 1994).
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2001.
R. Melville, "Exhibitions" in Architectural Review, April 1957, vol. 121, no. 723, pp. 269-270 (illustrated).
R. Jacobs, "Jazz ou la peinture investie/ Jazz or the Invested Painting" in Aujourd'hui, July 1958, no. 18 (illustrated).
Time Magazine, 4 August 1958 (illustrated).
I. Penn, "8 New York Painters with International Influence" in Vogue, October 1959, p. 90 (illustrated).
N. Ponente, Modern Painting: Contemporary Trends, New York, 1960, p. 139 (illustrated).
Y. Tono, Sam Francis: The Flesh of Mist, Tokyo, 1964 (illustrated on the front cover).
Contemporary American Painters, Geneva, 1966, p. 4 (illustrated).
Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, exh. cat., Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, 1999, p. 34 (illustrated, fig. 32).
D. Burchett-Lere, ed. Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, p. 69, no. 170 (illustrated, fig. 72; illustrated again on DVD I).
Iserlohn, Haus der Kunst and Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Junge amerikanische Kunst, April-June 1956, no. 23 (illustrated).
Cambridge, Arts Council Gallery; New York, City Art Gallery; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; Newcastle, Hatton Gallery and Nottingham, University Art Gallery, New Trends in Painting: Some Pictures from a Private Collection: Tachisme and Action Painting, October-May 1957, p. 11, no. 27.
London, Arthur Tooth and Sons, Ltd., The Exploration of Paint: Karel Appel, Jean Dubuffet, Sam Francis, Paul Jenkins, Jean-Paul Riopelle, January-February 1957, no. 15 (titled Blue and Black).
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Kunsthalle Basel; Milan, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna; Madrid, Museo Nacional de Arte Contemporáneo; Berlin, Hochschule für Bildende Künste; Amsterdam, Stedelijik Museum and Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, The New American Painting, April 1958-January 1959, no. 13 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Jackson Pollock et la nouvelle peinture américaine, January-February 1959, no. 12 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art and London, Tate Gallery, The New American Painting, February-September 1959, p. 31, no. 12 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery, Painting and Sculpture of a Decade, 1954-1964, April-June 1964, pp. 208-209, no. 258 (illustrated).
Düsseldorf, Kunsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Kunst aus USA nach 1950, October 1977-January 1978, p. 23 (illustrated).
Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Sam Francis, February-April 1993, pp. 106-107 (illustrated).
New York, Cohen Gallery, Sam Francis: The Fifties, May-June 1993 (illustrated).
Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau and London, Royal Academy of Arts, Amerikanische Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert: Malerei und Plastik 1913-1993, May-December 1993.
Hong Kong, Kwai Fung Hin, Rue de Moulin Vert, May-June 2018.
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.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Painted in Paris in 1955, Sam Francis’s Composition in Blue and Black is a chromatically rich and sumptuous canvas that serves as a visual essay on the visceral power of color. This work was produced during a pivotal period of the artist’s career when he began to move away from painting largely dark monochromatic compositions and began unlocking his compositions to investigate the interplay of color and light. In the present work, Francis opens up his dense formal arrangement to include bursts of other colors, producing a kaleidoscopic luminosity that reverberates with optical intensity. Widely exhibited during the artist’s lifetime, this work sits at the vanguard of postwar abstract painting. Along with contemporaries such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Grace Hartigan, Francis’s work from this period has been described as “totally ‘new’—a unique and indigenous—kind of painting… whose influence can clearly be seen in the artists of Europe as well as in other parts of the world” (Press Release, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 1959).
Francis packs the surface of his composition with an assembly of vibrant colorful cells; pools of color that range from impenetrable jet black to regal blue, the intensity of these pigments appears to make these organic forms materially vibrate. Interspersed in between these bands of dominant color are flickers of contrasting lighter tones. Warm reds and yellows occupy the edges of the composition, whereas the center is occupied by a molten core of intense white pigment. Throughout the composition, trails of liquid paint meander throughout the surface of the work, imbuing it with a dramatic sense of energy and dynamism as the animated surface—constantly in motion—roils and churns as color bubbles up to surface.
This work is the physical manifestation of the shimmering, mirage-like world of light crystallized in the form of color that Francis first experienced during a prolonged stay in hospital between 1943 and 1947. The influential curator James Johnson Sweeney explained that the artist was fascinated by the “play of light on the ceiling, the dawn sky and sunset sky effect over the Pacific, when his cot was wheeled out on the hospital balcony. What most interested him... was the quality of light itself... not just the play of light, but the substance from which light is made” (quoted in P. Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, p. 34). This interest was developed further during the time that the artist spent in Paris beginning in 1950, where he fell under the spell of the French colorists such as Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard—all artists who were sensitive to both the continuity of space and the hedonism of color.
The all-over composition and the vibrant palette of color is testament to the sheer joy that Francis received from the painterly process. Although his explorations of the physical and meta-physical qualities of light are clearly underpinned by poetical and philosophical ideas, it is the skill with which he transfers these to the canvas that make Francis stand out as one of the pre-eminent colorists of the twentieth century. Whilst others explored the use of color in figurative forms, Francis felt that images, with their figurative renderings, interrupted the celebration and exploration that drive his own paintings. Composition in Blue and Black is a superb example of the artist’s infinitely subtle explorations of both color, and, crucially, the physical sensations that this formal element produced.

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