LONDON – By the end of the 1950s Pierre Soulages had forged his place within the contemporary art world, gaining increasing international acclaim during the decade with works exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum. Peinture 125 x 202cm, 30 Octobre 1958, one of the highlights of the Contemporary Art Evening auction at Sotheby's London this month, comes from this most sought-after period of creative production. A number of other works by the artist will be offered in the Contemporary Art auction at Sotheby's Paris in early December.

Intensely dramatic and engrossing, the work captures Soulages's career-long commitment to address the tensions between form, colour and light, revealing the artist's total mastery of an unadulterated expression.

soulages-london-peinturePIERRE SOULAGES, Peinture 125 x 202 cm, 30 Octobre 1958, Estimate £2,000,000–3,000,000.
To be offered in the Contemporary Art auction on 17 October at Sotheby's London.

What matters to me is what happens on the canvas. No two brushstrokes are ever the same… Any particular brushstroke establishes a relationship with other forms on the canvas, with the background and with the surface as a whole.

–Pierre Soulages

In conjunction with the broad strokes of black and gold, the painting shows expressively delineated washes of pigment that arguably recall one of Soulages’s earliest influences, the sight of bare tree branches dramatically silhouetted against an icy sky. As he said in the same interview as above: “Was my childhood fondness for bare trees due to my love of black as a colour? Or was it the other way round? Did I begin to love black because of the trees in winter without their leaves; because of the way the black trunks and branches stood out against the background of sky or snow, making them look brighter by contrast....”


PIERRE SOULAGES, PEINTURE 130 X 162 CM, 30 JUILLET 1971, ESTIMATE €500,000–700,000. TO BE OFFERED IN
ART CONTEMPORAIN ON 3–4 DECEMBER AT SOTHEY'S PARIS.

The work of Soulages resists being categorised alongside other postwar European artists as they struggled to handle the atrocities of the previous generation. Though he rejected the existential dialogue that was intrinsic to the theoretical discourse of his European contemporaries, his work nonetheless evokes the awe-inspiring canvases and emotional intensity of the most notable American Abstract Expressionists including Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. However, refusing to be pigeon-holed in this way, Soulages attempts to situate his work outside of category, history or style, an approach which allows each of his paintings to convey an autonomous beauty regardless of time or place: “I don’t depict. I don’t narrate. I don’t represent. I paint, I present.”

Emma Baker is head of Research, Contemporary Art department, Sotheby’s London.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

17 October 2014 | London