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)

Red No. 1

SAM FRANCIS (1923-1994)
Red No. 1
oil on canvas
64 x 45 in. (162.6 x 114.3 cm.)
Painted in 1953
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York.
Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill (acquired from the above, May 1958); sale sale, Christie's, New York, 10 May 2016, lot 29B.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
B. Rose, American Painting: The 20th Century, Lausanne, 1969, p. 7 (illustrated in color, p. 104).
P. Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, p. 143 (illustrated, pl. 71).
Y. Riopelle, et al., Jean-Paul Riopelle: Catalogue Raisonné, Tome I: 1939–1953, Montreal, 1999 (illustrated in color, p. 21).
D. Burchett-Lere, ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, pp. 62 and 334, fig. 63, cat. no. SFF.135, DVD I (illustrated in color).
New York, Duveen-Graham Gallery; Lincoln, DeCordova Museum; Denver, Daniels & Fishers Department Store; Greeley, Colorado State College; San Jose, Rosicrucian Egypt Museum; Washington, D.C., Howard University; St. Mary-of-the-Wood College; Tallahassee, Florida State University; New York, Martha Jackson Gallery; Macomb County Community College and Lexington, University of Kentucky, New Talent in the U.S.A., February 1955-October 1957, no. 10.
New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, First New York Exhibition of Paintings by Sam Francis, February-March 1956.
Lausanne, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Palais de Rumine, 1er Salon International de Galeries Pilotes, June-September, 1963 (illustrated in color, p.87).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Friends Collect: 7th Friends Loan Exhibition, May-June 1964, no. 43 (illustrated, p. 23).
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art; New Delhi, Lalit Kala Akademi; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria and Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Two Decades of American Painting, October 1966-August 1967 (Tokyo and Kyoto: p. 66, illustrated, p. 48; New Delhi: illustrated in color, p. 4).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Houston, Menil Collection; Sweden, Malmö Konsthall; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Rome, Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, March 1999-January 2001 (illustrated in color, p. 65, pl. 13, titled as Red 1).
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Among the most visually triumphant of Sam Francis’s abstract paintings, Red No. 1 is a seminal example of the artist’s innovative perception and deep understanding of light and color. Exhibited in the artist’s first New York exhibition at the revered Martha Jackson Gallery in 1956, the present work dazzles the eye with its rich palette and thoughtful depth. The combination of subdued dark and vibrant red hues, perhaps more than any other device in the artist’s oeuvre, creates a highly evocative atmosphere resulting in a shimmering center that radiates with energy, while at the same time playing with the viewer’s perception and the transient nature of light itself. Influenced by great artists of Impressionism, Red No. 1 is a revolutionary display of color’s emotional implications, for which Francis received his greatest acclaim.

Painted in the artist’s Parisian studio in 1953, Red No. 1 is a lavish example of Francis’s work from this period. Captivating reds dominate the canvas, while contrasting blues and blacks create a surface of incredible depth, met with luminous highlights of warm yellow. The juxtaposition of these hues creates a pulsating, harmonic balance, rendering the surface with dynamic movement. The amorphous passages of color interact in a symbiotic manner, ebbing and flowing throughout the canvas. Francis also invites appreciation of the complexities of each individual form, embellishing the canvas with a series of sporadic drips of pigment, alluding to his intuitive working method. The result is a testament to Francis’s thoughtful use of these primary colors. He has created a narrative in which the colors themselves are the main character.

Throughout his life, Francis was interested in pushing the limits of his own creativity, frequently experimenting to arrive at a distinctly unique product. This commentary on color speaks to his passionate investigations into the possibilities of his own medium; “Color is fire...a firing of the eyes...Color is light on fire" (S. Francis, quoted by W. Agee, Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, Los Angeles, p. 32). Red No. 1 exemplifies this curiosity, showing Francis’s mastery of light and color that came to define his rich, chromatic works of the 1950s.

Sam Francis’s experience serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps encouraged him to explore his artistic inclinations; a period of illness left him immobile for a number years. While in recovery, he began to paint, interested in capturing the reflections of sunlight onto the ceiling of his hospital room. Then in 1950, he joined the California School of Fine Arts. Surrounded by other great expressive painters such as Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, Francis learned to push the boundaries of color, creating evocative, abstract narratives. Francis would also find great inspiration from Claude Monet, whose vast, atmospheric landscapes challenged him to embrace abstraction even further, ridding his canvases of figuration and traditional perspective. His travels in Europe, particularly southern France, expanded his palette even further, encouraging him to move away from his earlier monochromatic white and gray compositions in favor of more vibrant hues, notably the striking red that characterizes the present work. Francis also developed an appreciation for the intricate, dimensional compositions of the Early Italian Renaissance. His interpretation of this technique is uniquely incorporated into Red No. 1: even devoid of gestural forms, Francis’s placement of the paint creates a surface of extreme detail.

A testament to its prestige, Red No. 1 has a rich exhibition history, having been included in global shows such as Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, and Two Decades of American Painting. It is through paintings of this caliber which we understand Francis’s love for his art. The hues speak to his emotional connection to color theory, and the composition offers the eye an endless exploration across the surface of the canvas. 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. As such, Red No. 1 stands as a superb example of the artist’s infinitely subtle explorations of both color and crucially, sensation.

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