Sam Francis

Born 1923. Died 1994.
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Sam Francis Biography

Born in San Mateo, California, in 1923, Sam Francis served in the US Air Force corps during World War II, later earning degrees in psychology and botany at UC Berkeley. Moving to Paris in the 1950s, he encountered Monet’s Waterlilies, which proved lastingly influential to his art’s scale and sensitivity to light, color, and abstract art. The artist also traveled extensively – to Tokyo, Mexico City, and New York to name a few – and became familiar with non-Western philosophy. His work evolved from monochromatic abstractions to rich chromatic murals to his iconic “open” paintings: in which vividly hued splashes and drips of color are punctuated by expanses of white. These abstract expressionist paintings became synonymous with Francis’s work, as the movement came to be defined alongside him.

After his painting Big Red was included in the exhibition Twelve Artists at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1956, the artist enjoyed increasing critical success. Beginning in the 1960s Francis lived and worked in Los Angeles, and except for a stay in Japan in the mid-1970s, he returned to California and became a community leader in the art scene there. Francis would open the Litho Shop in Santa Monica, which became a printmaking studio for himself and local artists alike. Francis was also a founding trustee of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and has his work in its permanent collection, as he does at the Kunstmuseum, Basel; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others. Regardless of his international scope, the West Coast would remain his home until his death in 1994.

His large-scale abstract paintings, sculptures, and prints are valued for his singular aesthetic vision, a confluence of New York School, Color Field, Japanese Zen, and Chinese calligraphy painting. According to Sotheby’s Mei Moses Art Indices, the average compound annual return for a Sam Francis resold at auction between 2003 and 2017 was 6.1%, and an impressive 81.9% of 166 such works increased in value. The top three record prices for Sam Francis at auction are:

$11.8 million for Summer #1, 1957, at Sotheby's New York, 11 May 2016

$6.4 million for Middle Blue, 1957, at Christie's New York, 11 May 2010

$5.2 million for Black, 1955, at Christie's New York. 13 May 2008

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Artist Image: 2010 Arnold Newman