Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Sam Francis
1923 - 1994
acrylic on canvas
353.5 by 127.4 cm. 139 1/4 by 50 1/8 in.
Executed in 1980.
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This work is identified with the interim identification number of SFF.765 in consideration for the forthcoming addendum to the Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings. This information is subject to change as scholarship continues by the Sam Francis Foundation.


Acquired directly from the artist in April 1982


Palo Alto, Smith Andersen Gallery, Sam Francis, May - June 1980
Austin, Hope Gallery, Faith and Charity, July - August 1981, n.p., illustrated
Paris, Pavillon des Arts; Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Arts; and Tokyo, Ogawa Art Foundation, Yoyoi Gallery, Sam Francis Oeuvre in the Museum Collection, September 1986 - December 1987, n.p., no. 40, illustrated in colour


Debra Burchett-Lere, Ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, no. SFF. 765, illustrated in colour on DVD I

Catalogue Note


Characteristic of Sam Francis’ later body of work, Untitled showcases total mastery of the artist’s iconic technique. The towering canvas of this work, which stands at over three metres tall, draws the viewers' eyes upward while the dynamic dripped splatters of rich reds, blues, and yellows compete among themselves for attention. Rather than run into one another, these variations of colour overlap, achieving the illusion of perspective, creating a depth in which the viewer can lose themselves.

Francis’ accretion of rhythmic strokes and splatters, at once deliberate and loose, create an unexpected harmony of form and hue. Francis regarded colour as integral to the expression of his unconscious visions. Preferring to call his contrasts of colour ‘a modulation of opposites’ rather than simply a mixture of colours, Francis rejected all comparisons of his works to a palette. Mixing his own colours en masse to better allow for chance to enter his process, Francis’ long-time studio assistant Dan Cytron notes that “Sam could afford any pigments he wanted and he wanted colors which were rare or obscure, such as real cadmium, or cobalt-based colors, not available to the general public” (Dan Cytron cited in: Tom Learner, Rachel Ribenc and Aneta Zebala, ‘Notes on Sam Francis’ Painting Methods and Materials in Two Grid Paintings’, in: Debra Burchett-Lere, Ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994, Oakland 2011, p. 3). In mixing his paints and creating his own highly saturated pigments, Francis reinvented the physical act of painting for himself.

Francis’ preoccupation with colour has earned him comparisons with like-minded contemporaries like Pollock, Riopelle and Miró. However, unlike these Abstract Expressionists whose works aimed to focus on the meaning of form, colour and materials, Francis distanced himself from this purely formalistic approach. Though his method may at first appear to resemble Pollock’s ‘action painting’, many of his paintings are guided by sensitive premeditations of composition. Having studied traditional Japanese flung-ink painting while living and working at a temple in Tokyo in the late 1950s, his compositions are imbued with an aesthetic philosophy guided by a consideration for the balance between emptiness and gestural drips. Untitled is no exception, pulsating with an energy both elusive and tangible this work is representative of a fluid summation of the many ground-breaking artistic forces which sculpted the artistic practice of the 20th century.

Contemporary Art Day Auction