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Rouge bleu jaune

Rouge bleu jaune
signed ‘SERGE POLIAKOFF’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
97 x 130 cm. (38 ¼ x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1954
Collection Dr Franz Meyer, Zürich.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
F. Brütsch, Serge Poliakoff 1900-1969, Neuchâtel 1993, p. 186 (titled Composition; illustrated in colour, pp. 78-79).
A. Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff, Catalogue Raisonné Volume I 1922-1954, Paris 2004, no. 54-46 (illustrated in colour, p. 499).
Hamburg, Kunstverein, Serge Poliakoff, 1958, no. 31 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

Rouge bleu jaune (1954) is an arresting, large-scale example of Serge Poliakoff’s unique abstract language. An ensemble of irregular shapes, energised by an assortment of pastel hues, interlock like pieces of a collage or mosaic. A seductive lipstick-red form supplants its curvilinear mass over a monolithic block of black in the top-left corner, whilst darker colours are picked out against lighter shades of sandy beige and glowing yellow. Whilst each shape has its own unique delineation, there is a harmonic balancing in the overall organisation of these forms, with a rough symmetry grounding the composition across both diagonal axes.

Executed at the height of his career during a period of international recognition, Rouge bleu jaune is a masterful example of Poliakoff’s mature style. Like the Byzantine icons that the artist marvelled at as a child in his native Moscow, Poliakoff’s abstractions favour a two-dimensional dependence on tonal modulation over geometric modelling, a mode of abstraction foreshadowed by Cézanne at the end of the previous century. With irresistible fluidity, Poliakoff allows colour to dictate the contours of his shapes, so that whilst some components are boldly accentuated, others seem to dissolve into the background. As demonstrated by Rouge bleu jaune, non-illusionistic pictorial space is conjured by colour alone.

Whilst Poliakoff’s formal investigations into geometry and colour are at the heart of his practice, he encourages the viewer’s subjectivity to intercede; his paintings should be felt rather than simply looked at empirically. ‘A form should be listened to when it is seen’, Poliakoff suggested, inviting the viewer to meditate on his work and draw out a personal response. (S. Poliakoff, quoted in Polikakoff , exh. cat., Galerie Melki, Paris, 1975, p. 13). Many critics of Poliakoff’s work have likened the tonal range prevalent in his painting to that found in music, which was an integral part of the artist’s life – his aunt was a prolific singer, and he himself was a keen guitar player. Like major and minor musical keys, Poliakoff’s remarkable ability to hone tonal modulations in paint has the ability to evoke sensations of happiness or melancholy in the beholder. Jean Cassou, explaining this analogy between music and Poliakoff’s work, noted that ‘colour is his native element and language, just as it was the native element and language of his fellow Russian, Kandinsky. Colour and music. Colour handled musically and, like music, capable of creating a world of its own, fraught with the same gorgeous and fascinating effect’ (J. Cassou, Serge Poliakoff , Amriswil, 1963, p. 17). In Rouge bleu jaune , the lighter zones of the canvas perhaps represent a silence or solitude made all the more powerful by the inviting cacophony of interlocking colour; it is this dulcet musicality that give Poliakoff’s works a voice of their own.

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