Lot 150
  • 150

Sam Francis

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Sam Francis
  • Composition
  • signed and dated 58 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 53 1/2 by 32 1/2 in. 133.4 by 82.6 cm.
  • Executed in 1958, this work is registered with the Sam Francis Estate under archive number SFP58-40,


Gimpel Fils, London (acquired from the artist July 31, 1958)
Gimpel and Hanover, Zurich
Galerie Wilhelm Grosshenning, Düsseldorf (acquired  from the above in 1965)
Private Collection, Wuppertal
Private Collection
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Wolfgang Wittrock Kunsthandel, Düsseldorf
Anders Malmberg, Malmö
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Zurich, Gimpel and Hanover, Eröffnungsamsstellung, November 1962 - January 1963, cat. no. 17
New York, Acquavella Galleries Inc., XIX & XX Century Master Paintings & Sculptures, November - December 1988, cat. no. 21, p. 53, illustrated in color


This work is in very good condition. The surface is clean having recently benefitted from a topical cleaning courtesy of Amann + Estabrook Conservation. The canvas is well stretched, the colors are vibrant and the impasto is rich. There is evidence of minor and unobtrusive drying cracks, which appear to be stable, located primarily in the black painted areas of the composition and along the extreme top edge. Otherwise, there are no apparent condition problems with this work. There is no evidence of inpainting under ultra violet light inspection. Framed.
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

Sam Francis's stunning canvas from 1958, Composition, embodies the artist's creative vision.  Cascading layers and wildly vibrant drips of colors pour down from the top of the composition, merging into the surrounding void space.  Explosive reds, yellows and blues collide with one another formulating an intense visual feast for the eyes.  In 1958, Francis divided his time between New York City and Paris and took his second around-the-world journey before settling back into life in New York.  He was immediately invigorated being back in the frenetic pace and excitement of the city and this revitalized energy is expressed in the present work. 

The dynamic color range and spontaneous execution are masterfully exhibited here in one of his strongest representations of the period.  As if explosive fireworks against an otherwise empty sky, this energy is translated onto the surface of his canvas and exposes an invigorated and highly charged sensibility to his work.  Composition clearly exhibits Francis's trademark and celebrated style found in his large oil paintings, where areas of the white canvas are left to show through (or in this case, painted white voids are left empty) and paint is splashed and splattered in areas of bright contrasting color, often confined to only the edges of his canvas.  These wide white expanses hold a spiritual quality of silence and void for Francis.  He also addresses balance and gravity in his work, stating that, "I am fascinated by gravity... I like to fly, to soar, to float like a cloud, but I am tied down to place. Painting is a way in and out" (the artist in Peter Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, p. 14).  Francis was influenced by the work of abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky and Clyfford Still. He spent a large part of the 1950s in Paris, having his first exhibition there in 1952.  During the final three decades of his career his style of large scale bright Abstract expressionist work was luminous and painterly rather than gestural and also often closely associated with Color field painting.