Lot 53
  • 53

Sam Francis

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
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  • Sam Francis
  • Red and Pink
  • oil on canvas
  • 80 x 65 7/8 in. 203.2 x 167.3 cm.
  • Painted in 1951, this work is registered with the Sam Francis Estate as archive number SF51-2.


Acquired directly from the artist


Bern, Kunsthalle Bern; Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Sam Francis, May - October 1960, cat. no. 3
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Art e Contemplazione, 1961, exhibition checklist
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Toronto, Art Gallery of Toronto, Post Painterly Abstraction, April - December 1964
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts; Berkeley, University Art Museum, Sam Francis: A Retrospective, September 1967 - February 1968, cat. no. 1
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Sam Francis: Paintings 1947 - 1972, September 1972 - March 1973, cat. no. 12, p. 43, illustrated
Bonn, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Sam Francis, February - April 1993, p. 75, illustrated in color (Bonn)
Los Angeles, The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sam Francis: Paintings 1947 - 1990, March - July 1999, pl. 6, p. 58, illustrated in color, and illustrated in color p. 51 (detail)


Peter Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, p. 138, illustrated in color
Peter Selz, Sam Francis, (revised edition), New York, 1982, pl. 72, p. 150, illustrated in color


This painting is in very good condition. For further information, a condition report has been prepared by Terrence Mahon, Painting Conservator, New York City Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 to receive this report. The canvas is framed in a gold rubbed wood strip frame with a small float.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A young Sam Francis arrived in Paris in 1950 to study the great tradition of French color and light in the work of Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and Paul C├ęzanne.  Having just received his masters of art degree from University of California, Berkeley, he found Paris to be the ideal setting and his work changed almost at once. Unlike the bright clarity and color of California, Paris winters are hazy and silvery gray; by the end of the year color was expunged from his work.  Francis was extremely sensitive to light and what most interested him ..."was the quality of light itself...not just the play of light, but the substance of which light is made." (Exh. Cat., Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Sam Francis, 1967, p. 14) Although he had not seen other monochromatic or white painting at the time, the transient light of Paris inspired him to work in one tonal note. Most of his paintings of 1950 and 1951 are stained in whites and grays, along with touches of terre verde, cobalt blue, cadmium red, and yellow ochre.

The White Paintings were a cathartic point of departure. As witnessed in Red and Pink, 1951, color is readmitted while the concern with light is still paramount in the work's delicate and cloudlike surface. In Red and Pink, subdued color appears as seen through a fog or dense mist, obscuring the muted cosmos beyond.  One form, one color, grows from another and abstracts into the next, illuminating his comment, "I paint time," (Jan Butterfield, Sam Francis, Paris, 1983, p. 24). The concept of time is significant as it conceptually separates Francis from the prevalent "Abstract Expressionist emphasis on the alienated individual, standing alone in a hostile world and acting out momentary impulses in the `arena,' in the immediacy of the canvas." (Harold Rosenberg, "The American Action Painters," Art News 51, December, 1952, p. 22)  The surface of the canvas is not a succession of instinctual strokes, but a series of interrelated organic forms of cellular life, each affected by the other, fusing in a process of constant growth and movement.

The White Paintings of the early 1950s and subsequently Red and Pink from early 1951 bear a kinship to the work of Mark Rothko in the late 1940s, incorporating diverse and irregular shapes of contrasting colors scattered on an irregular surface.  Francis endured his own process of elucidation, one very different from Rothko's, toward his first truly personal paintings.  In 1949-1950, his shapes, while all different, become smaller and more uniform in size, scale, and pattern, composing a denser surface-a membrane through which we glimpse a white distant space.  By 1949 - 1950, a single unifying color, a potent red (perhaps in response to Rothko) bound the painting and its surface, and began Francis' venture into the brilliant color that characterizes his later work.  In Red and Pink, shapes compress and blend, some distinct, others fading, as if they were embodied by an omnipresent atmosphere.  Francis incorporated a new sense of all-encompassing internal light that kept the surface active and the shapes in constant change.  Red and Pink is a superb example registered with the Sam Francis Estate as the second painting of 1951, a critical moment in the burgeoning career of the young artist Time Magazine called in 1955, "the hottest young painter in Paris."