Lot 65
  • 65

Sam Francis

400,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Sam Francis
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 58 on the reverse
  • watercolor on paper
  • 26 1/2 x 40 in. 67.3 x 101.6 cm.


Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
Leon Mnuchin, New York
Renee Tannanberg, New York
Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1978)
Acquavella Contemporary Art, Inc., New York (acquired from the above in 1998)
PaineWebber Group Inc., New York (acquired from the above in 1998)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery, Contemporary and Modern Masters, September – October 1998, n.p., illustrated in color
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Contemporary Voices: Works from The UBS Art Collection, February - April 2005 and November 2005 - February 2006


This work is in excellent condition overall. In the bottom right corner there is a small paper loss that has been expertly patched. In the top right corner, located 2 in. down along the right edge, there is a small knick in the paper as well as a small patch located 3 3/4 - 4 in. down from the top right corner along the right edge. There is evidence of slight darkening along the edges of the paper from handling. The undulations of the paper are inherent to the acqueous medium and are typical of watercolor. This work is mounted at intervals with rice paper hinges to rag board matte. The work is framed in a white painted wood strip frame behind Plexiglas.
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' chromatically resplendent Untitled from 1958 triumphantly deploys the masterful handling of color and abstract gesture indicative of the very best of Francis' corpus.  A master of the organic liquidity of watercolor, the medium with which Francis first developed his artistic talents during a period of hospitalization during World War II, his works on paper are widely perceived as among the most superlative of his celebrated oeuvre.  Executed in 1958 at the very apotheosis of the artist's foundational development in Paris during the 1950s, the present large scale watercolor underlines the extraordinary dexterity of Francis' treatment of form and color, particularly the emblematic abyssal blue which by 1957 had become his signature.  Testament to a wealth of art historical influences ranging from Mark Rothko, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, to Giotto's frescos in Padua and Chinese ink painting, Francis' practice extrapolates and transmutes the hegemony of color into a biomorphic engagement with color as ascendant form. By negotiating a topography of non-representation, Francis opens a window onto the absolute and the void of representation to deliver a transfiguration of the pictorial surface.  By privileging a resplendent blue at the end of the 1950s, Francis evoked an artistic dialogue with blue's transcendent potentiality as a conduit of the eternal.  Indeed, in Untitled Francis evokes the mystical capacity of blue as first identified by Kandinsky with his Blaue Reiter almanac in 1911, thereafter taken up contemporaneously by Yves Klein in the late 1950s with his IKB monochromes.

Dominated by interlocking organic clusters of deep blue punctuated with diaphanous hues of red, yellow and green, the present work charts a lyrical dialectic between chaos and order, absence and presence.  Immersed in the French coloristic tradition, with recourse even to the centuries-old academic rivalry between line and color, Francis' paintings are essays on the power of color to deliver a pure expression of act and gesture. For Francis "color holds feelings"; indeed, this work truly substantiates the artist's proclamation that "color was the real substance for me, the real underlying thing which drawing and painting are not... colors are intensities." (William C. Agee, "Sam Francis: Coming of Age in the Mother City," in Exh. Cat. New York, L&M Arts, Sam Francis, 2009, p. 13).