Pierre Soulages (b. 1919)
Pierre Soulages (b. 1919)
Pierre Soulages (b. 1919)
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Artist's Resale Right ("droit de Suite"). If the … Read more Property from a Private Collection, Australia
Pierre Soulages (b. 1919)

Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950

Pierre Soulages (b. 1919)
Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950
signed and dated 'Soulages 50' (lower right); dated ’25 Nov 50’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 35 in. (130 x 89 cm.)
Painted in 1950.
Galerie Louis Carré & Cie, Paris
Private collection, Australia, 1953
By descent from the above to the present owner
The South Australia News, 18th March 1953, p. 9 (illustrated).
P. Encrevé, Soulages: L'Œuvre Complet. Peintures, vol. I, Paris, 1994, p. 110, no. 55 (illustrated).
Washington, Phillips Gallery; San Francisco, Art Institute; Seattle, University of Washington; Bloomington, Indiana University; Baltimore, Museum of Art; Ann Arbor, University of Michigan; Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery, Advancing French Art, March 1951-April 1952.
Hobart, Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery; Sydney, National Art Gallery of New South Wales; Brisbane, Queensland National Art Gallery; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria; Adelaide, National Gallery of South Australia; Perth, Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of Western Australia, French Painting Today, January-September 1953, no. 99.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("droit de Suite"). If the Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer also 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. These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5,5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Etienne Sallon
Etienne Sallon

Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection for almost seven decades, Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950 is a luminous and dynamic painting by Pierre Soulages. It has been unseen in public since its acquisition in 1953, when it toured Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth as part of the seminal exhibition “French Painting Today”. This was the first major showing of modern Parisian art in Australia, and would prove a profound influence on the country’s own postwar avant-garde. It arrived in sensational fashion when the freighter Merino, carrying all 119 paintings on board, was salvaged after running aground off the Tasmanian coast on Christmas Day 1952. The exhibition drew record-breaking crowds; the Canberra Times called it “the provocative event of the art season”, warning its readers that “a masculine antipodean palate, accustomed to a diet of realism, may find some of the paintings sophisticated to a point of being effete” (“French Paintings”, Canberra Times, February 28, 1952, p. 2).

Sharing this remarkable journey with works by artists including Picasso, Miró, Léger, Braque and Le Corbusier, Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950 displays Soulages’ early idiom at its most radiant. The work shimmers with an Old Masterly sense of light: it was created at the height of the artist’s use of architectonic bars of black oil paint, variously layered, stacked, scraped back or thinned to translucency against a pale ground. Rhythmic and serene, the painting builds a contrapuntal structure through twin stacks of upright and diagonal strokes. They range from broad slabs to narrow masts of pigment, and from tarry blackness to warm, resinous mahoganies and notes of Prussian blue. The background is a lambent sepia, glowing softly from the center like daylight breaking through a window. In Soulages’ hands, black becomes a way of discovering light and color, and conjuring a fathomless diversity of lyrical and resonant effects.

Devoted to exploring paint in its physical dimension, Soulages’ works are free of image and reference. He has claimed “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). Nonetheless, he is informed by the grandeur of past art that he sees as sharing the enduring, timeless strength of his own, from the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux to the Romanesque abbey-church of Sainte-Foy de Conques, near his hometown of Rodez in southern France. Standing beneath Sainte-Foy’s huge barrel vault gave the young Soulages what he has called his “first artistic experience”, and inspired him to become a painter. The present work, with its play of vaulted shadow and tranquil light, surely speaks to his relationship with that ancient, holy building. “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). In 1986 Soulages would have the honor of designing new windows for the cathedral, for which he developed a new kind of glass with variable translucency. These superb, subtle panes perfectly complement Sainte-Foy’s interior, and echo the simple beauty of works like Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950.

Prior to its tour of Australia, the present work was also shown in “Advancing French Art”, a group exhibition that opened at the Phillips Gallery, Washington, D.C., in 1951. Soulages found a keen following in the United States at this early stage of his career. His works had superficial similarities to the work of American artists such as Franz Klinewho also trafficked in bold, calligraphic monochromeand were embraced by an audience familiar with Abstract Expressionism. Soulages, however, never aimed for the emotional or narrative content that interested his contemporaries.

The forms of Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950 cannot be traced to any gestural, temporal movement of the painter’s brush, but rather seem born of the enigmatic structure of the painting itself. Absent the anecdotal motion of Abstract Expressionism, it can be likened to an instant poetic image as opposed to a narrative, or a chord as opposed to a melody. The painting brings time to a standstill. “Rather than movement, I prefer to talk of tension”, Soulages has said. “And rhythm, yes. We can also say form: a shaping of matter and light” (P. Soulages, quoted in F. Jaunin, ibid., p. 92). Soulages had crystallized this approach in 1947, when he created his first abstract compositions using brou de noix, a dark brown stain brewed from walnut husks; the present work, painted in oil, learns from the warm tones and shifting translucency that Soulages achieved with the walnut pigment.

Comparing his works to Kline’s in 1954, Sam Hunter, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, offered a sensitive appreciation of Soulages’ 1950s idiom that is entirely apt for the present work. “Soulages’s canvases”, he wrote, ”are much less immediate in sensation, consciously modified and mellowed … his paintings throw off strange, smoky reflections that suggest the hallucinating light of Rembrandt or the Seicento tenebrosi. These effects deepen and enrich his piled-up crosses, double crosses and zig-zags of black paint, giving his art a curious emotionality and a relationship to the grand art of the past. Yet these ‘pictorial’ effects don’t disqualify his modernity. There is something ‘existential’ about the freedom and drama of his arrangements; they vividly imprint themselves on the mind with their rudimentary but eloquent, enigmatic ciphers. Soulages … has given the methodology of abstract expressionism a new atmosphere and tongue” (S. Hunter, “Pierre Soulages”, Art Digest, May 1, 1954, p. 10). Peinture 130 x 89 cm, 25 novembre 1950 is alive with the chiaroscuro complexity that Hunter describes, creating a work that resounds with mystery and grandeur. Like light playing over ancient stone, it is at once monumental and subtle in its impact, and exemplifies the unparalleled richness of Soulages’ painterly language.

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