PIERRE SOULAGES (1919 - 2022)
PIERRE SOULAGES (1919 - 2022)
PIERRE SOULAGES (1919 - 2022)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
PIERRE SOULAGES (1919 - 2022)

Peinture 130 x 97 cm, 1949

PIERRE SOULAGES (1919 - 2022)
Peinture 130 x 97 cm, 1949
signed 'Soulages' (lower right)
oil on canvas
130 x 97 cm. (51 1/8 x 38 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1949
Collection of Mr & Mrs Michel Jaoul (acquired directly from the artist in 1950)
Cornette de Saint Cyr Paris, 26 October 2013, Lot 7
Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above sale by the previous owner)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Kunsthaus Zürich, Pierre Soulages, exh. cat., Zürich, 1961 (no. 17).
Pierre Encrevé, Seuil, Soulages: The Complete Works, Paintings, 1946-1959, Paris, 1994 (illustrated, no. 30, p. 30).
Paris, Galerie Lydia Conti, Pierre Soulages, 1949.
Hanover, Kestner Gesellschaft, Pierre Soulages, December 1960 - January 1961. This exhibition later travelled to Essen, Folkwang Museum, February 1961; The Hague, Kunstmuseum Den Haag, March April 1961; Zürich, Kunsthaus Zürich, May 1961.
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Lot Essay

'I saw light and shadow come to life.' —Pierre Soulages

Pierre Soulages saw the vividness of true black for the first time when he visited the Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy in Conques, France as a young man. Under the massive transept, he observed how sunlight filtered through the window and contrasted with darkness. Deeply affected by the experience, he decided to become a painter and devote his life to recreating that moment. Soulages’ works explore the structure of lines and capture the sanctity of light. His iconic approach to artistic conception propelled him as one of the most successful Lyrical Abstractionists in the Post-War era in Europe. His influence also has a tremendous impact on the Abstraction Expressionism movement that was happening concurrently in North America.

'A black tree in winter is a kind of abstract sculpture…what interested me was the lines of the branches, their movement in space...' —Pierre Soulages

In a conversation with art critic Françoise Jaunin, Soulages mentioned that he started painting trees and their branches when he was a child. He was fascinated by the abstract imageries formed by the intersection of vertical and horizontal lines. However, he was not concerned with the rendering of trees. Rather, by drawing the energy from their sprawling branches, he was exploring how these ever-expanding constructs deal with the issue of space. As demonstrated in Peinture 130 x 97cm, 1949, the main tree trunk asserts the vertical of the painting while numerous branches extend horizontally. Interconnected in an unconventional manner, they form a geometric grid that is organic. Within this abstract construct of thick black lines, colour planes of varying brightness scatter rhythmically across the painting: black becomes the dominant tone because of its intensity. It would also become the artist’s favourite colour in the future. Brighter hues such as white, light brown, and yellow grey emerge from within this labyrinth—it evokes a sense of timeless sombreness. Such treatment was inspired by the primitive paintings and engravings of the Lascaux Cave which was discovered in 1940. Filled with rhythm, tension, and a sense of eternity that transcends time, the entire painting is maximally bathed in life-giving light.

More than just a record that captures the fleeting gestures and movements of the artist’s brushwork, the visual form of Peinture 130 x 97cm, 1949 is built upon its own mysterious structure. Unlike an action painting rooted in Abstract Expressionism, this work is more akin to a poetic snapshot than a narrative; it is a choir harmonising rather than a melodic motif. Soulages started using walnut stain, a dark brown pigment extracted from the husk of walnut, in abstract compositions in 1947. And in subsequent years, he followed this creative practice and executed many works in this manner. Although this work was painted in oil, the warm tones and translucency are in the same vein as walnut stain. This treatment has the apparent effect of time being frozen.

It is extremely rare to find any work by Soulages that was painted before the 1950s. Completed in 1949, Peinture 130 x 97cm, 1949 is an exceptional specimen from the artist’s early oeuvre that consolidates his iconic style. 1949 was a pivotal year in Soulages’ career—immediately after the completion of this work, he held his first solo exhibition at Galerie Lydia Conti, Paris. Another work that was completed in the same year, with similar composition and size, was soon acquired by the Musée de Grenoble, France into its permanent collection. It marks the first time that Soulages’ artistic achievement was recognised by a public institution. This work was subsequently presented in his first retrospective museum tour Pierre Soulages: Retrospective (1960-61) in the late 1960s. It is evident that the aesthetic insights he cultivated early in his career were being acknowledged by esteemed organisations.

A year prior to the completion of this work, former curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York James Johnson Sweeney visited Soulages’ studio. Sweeney comments, 'a painting by Pierre Soulages is like a chord on a vast piano struck with both hands simultaneously—struck and held.' Indeed, he was profoundly moved by the ruggedness and immensity of his works. Upon returning to the United States, he became one of the strongest champions for Soulages, and his support laid an invaluable foundation for Soulages’ international success.

For Soulages, ‘a painting is an organisation, a set of relationships between shapes, lines and coloured surfaces.’ (P. Soulages quoted in Grosse Französischer abstrakter Malerei exh. cat. Germany 1948, n.p.) In the context of this perspective, his creative approach shares many similarities with modern architectural aesthetics. Peinture 130 x 97cm, 1949 was initially collected by the famed European architect Michel Jaoul and his wife in the 1950s. Jaoul worked in one of the most important architects of the 20th century and the father of Modernist architecture Le Corbusier’s office. He participated in the renovation of the Maisons Jaoul — one of the finest examples of Brutalist post-war buildings. This painting remained in the Jaoul family collection for over six decades until it was being offered in auction. It is a testimony to how the famed architect identifies and appreciates the overarching aesthetic of Soulages’ work.

Not long after this painting was completed, Soulages met Zao Wou-Ki. Both artists have a deep reverence for pre-historic and primitive art. Zao was inspired by oracle bones, and Soulages’ spatial exploration was inspired by primitive cave paintings. This commonality made these two artists lifelong friends, and they both made extraordinary achievements in the art world in post-war Europe. Soulages’ emphasis on the use of lines and the construction of space had a tremendous influence on Zao’s creative philosophies before the advent of his Hurricane Period. To celebrate the centenarian milestone of the internationally acclaimed French artist, the Louvre Museum curated the Soulages au Louvre retrospective to pay tribute to Pierre Soulages in December, 2019. This made him the third living artist after Picasso and Chagall to hold a solo exhibition at the Louvre. Peinture 130 x 97cm, 1949 is a crucial thread in the investigation of Soulages’ early artistic development and one of the most significant works that showcases his modernist.

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