Sam Francis: Artist Portrait

Sam Francis

Born 1923. Died 1994.

Sam Francis Biography

Born in San Mateo, California, in 1923, Francis served in the US Air Force during World War II, later earning degrees in psychology and botany at UC Berkeley. Moving to Paris in the 1950s, he encountered Monet’s Waterlillies, which proved lastingly influential to his art’s scale and sensitivity to light and colour. The artist also travelled extensively – to Tokyo, Mexico City and New York, among others – 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 colour are punctuated by expanses of white.

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, and except for a stay in Japan in the mid-1970s, Francis lived and worked primarily in Los Angeles, where he eventually died in 1994. His large-scale abstract paintings are valued for his singular aesthetic vision, a confluence of New York School, Color Field, Japanese Zen and Chinese calligraphy painting.

A founding trustee of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Francis has his work in its the permanent collection, as he does at the Kunstmuseum, Basel; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others. 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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Museums with Works by Sam Francis

Sam Francis Videos and Stories

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Artist Image: © 2018 Samuel L. Francis Foundation, CA / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Photograph by Koch, Eric / Anefo [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl], via Wikimedia Commons