Lot 3
  • 3

Yves Klein

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Yves Klein
  • Les Feux de l'Enfer
  • signed and dated 1961 on the reverse
  • dry pigment in synthetic resin on charred pasteboard on wood panel

  • 50 by 89cm.
  • 19 3/4 by 35in.


Galerie Tarica, Paris
Acquired directly from the above in 1961


Munich, Modern Art Museum, Sammlung Gunter Sachs, 1967
Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, Yves Klein, 2005
Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Gunter Sachs, 2008, p. 230


Paul Wember, Yves Klein, Cologne 1969, p. 136, no. FC 30, illustrated
Olivier Berggruen, Max Hollein & Ingrid Pfeiffer, Yves Klein, Frankfurt 2004, p. 172 illustrated and p. 173, illustrated in colour
Pierre Restany, Yves Klein: Fire at the Heart of the Void, Connecticut 2005, p. 98, illustrated and p. 99, illustrated in colour 
Kaus Ottmann, Yves Klein: Works and Writings, Barcelona 2010, pp. 94-95 illustrated and p. 96, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is brighter and more vibrant in the original work. Condition: This work is in very good condition overall. There is very minor wear to the upper right corner tip which is slightly raised. Upon close inspection, there is a small rub mark to the left of this. The edges of the pasteboard are uneven in places original to the artist’s working process.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

"Yves is convinced that hell's fire is physical fire. He gives us a pictorial version of it in the fire colour painting FC 30, which represents an octopus in attack position, tentacles raised horizontally, shooting out from the brown shadows of the furnace and bearing the explicit title, Feu de l'enfer [Hell's Fire]" (Pierre Restany, Yves Klein: Fire at the Heart of the Void, Connecticut 2005, p.55)

Brandishing dramatic and fiery tendrils of scorched pigment, the spectacular Feu de l'enfer stands as a paragon of Yves Klein's groundbreaking experimentation with fire as a painterly tool. Directly after the golden surface of Feu de l'enfer was completed in 1961, it was immediately acquired from the artist and incorporated into Gunter Sachs' rapidly proliferating collection. Upon settling in Paris in 1958, Sachs immersed himself in the contemporary avant-garde, establishing friendships and alliances with the inner circle of artists and prominent intellectuals on the verge of an architectonic transformation. Lead by France's foremost art critic Pierre Restany, the foundation of the Nouveau Réaslisme in the living room of Yves Klein's apartment on 27 October 1960, signposted a radical turning point in post-war art history. Propelling the Nouveau Réalistes momentum during the incipient years of the 1960s, Yves Klein zealously pursued the principle of immateriality in painting, bringing to the fore the increment of the unutterable reality always present even if indiscernible to the naked eye. In the late 1950s Klein isolated a luminous blue monochrome as the locus for his painterly endeavour towards 'spiritual materialism'; however by the 1960s, fire had become the decisive element and conclusive weapon in Klein's arsenal against gestural abstraction. As outlined by Pierre Restany, Klein "found in the line of fire the language of his truth and the truth of his language. No other technique would be able to procure for him such ease, liberty, and an opening onto his infinity and the infinity of others, onto the in-itself and the for-itself of things" (Pierre Restany, Yves Klein: Fire at the Heart of the Void, Connecticut 2005, p.45).

By employing the alchemical potential of fire as a dually destructive and creative force, Klein executed a transcendence of his iconic and groundbreaking corpus of IKB monochromes; the deep and resonating ultramarine pigment developed and patented by Klein in 1958 for its chromatic evocation of the indefinable and immaterial Void. For Klein fire represented the elemental force par excellence of symbolic, spiritual and physical transfiguration. Fully suited in a vest and tie, Klein set to creating these works in July of 1961. At the Centre d'Essasis du Gaz near Paris, a research facility owned by the French government, the artist pioneered the possibilities of scorching card coated in magnesium and a cadmium-hydrate silicate– a slightly magnetised surface that could only be melted using an industrial blowtorch. However, distinct from the pure fire paintings created via a fixed position of the fire hose, the introduction of coloured pigment prior to the application of fire affected an extraordinary degree of flamboyant gesture. Known as the Baroque fire colour paintings, this limited number of only twelve strident works stand distinguished from the entirety of Klein's oeuvre for their unrivalled gestural ferocity and apocalyptic exuberance. Entitled, Feu de l'enfer or Hell's Fire, the present work stands at the very apotheosis of this select corpus. Referring directly to the present work in his book Fire at the Heart of the Void, Pierre Restany described how, "It is not by chance that Yves entitled FC 30 Feu de l'Enfer [Hell's Fire], one of the wildest Baroque fire colour paintings. Sulphur vapours mix with fire's flame at the ultimate stage of its fiery path" (Ibid., p.53).

To achieve these dramatic effects, Klein wielded the immense burner with vertical and horizontal sweeps, swiftly manipulating the pigment as it trailed a path across the blistering golden brown surface. Taking on the appearance of "extravagant molluscs", "mysterious floating jellyfish in search of their prey" or "heavy, giant octopi with strong nervous hairy tentacles", their form is terrifying; aligned with Hieronymous Bosch and Matthias Grünewald's imaginings of Danté, Klein presents his personal vision of hell's inferno (Ibid., p.55). Nevertheless, while notoriously guided by a rigid Catholic morality, Klein possessed a deeply mystic sensibility that united fire's double value: the alchemical and the spiritual. Alongside the elements of earth, air and water, fire's prima materia status and annihilative/sublimative force provided the ultimate transcendence of Klein's monochrome adventure. Appropriating the mythological, alchemical, mystical and spiritual dimensions of fire, Klein, as a postmodern incarnation of Prometheus, reaches the supreme manifestation of his pursuit of pictorial mastery and material sublimation. Exhibited here with unrivalled spontaneity of dramatic expression, Feu de l'enfer superlatively conflates the act of fiery destruction with light and life itself.

Yves Klein's first large retrospective at the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld at the beginning of 1961 also heralded, to much acclaim, the presentation of his Wall and Fountain of Fire. As a pure demonstration of fire's artistic alchemy, this outstanding immaterial transfer burned a nonstop blue-golden-pink flame in the form of a Bunsen burner wall and butane-gas fed fountain in the museum's park. It was here that Klein truly acknowledged the twin-fold attraction and repulsion of fire as his ultimate sublimatory medium; indeed, it was the public's positive response to these works which confirmed for Klein the means by which his Blue Revolution would be accomplished. Standing at the very apogee and testament to what would become the end point of Klein's investigation, dramatically curtailed by the artist's death in 1962, Feu de l'enfer is a stunning coalition and of fire's spontaneous and beautiful, yet destructive alchemy central to Klein's pictorial progression towards the dissolution of form. As expounded by Klein in his Chelsea Hotel Manifesto of 1961: "In sum, my goal is twofold: first of all, to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilisation; secondly to register the trace of fire which has engendered this very same civilisation. And this because the void has always been my constant preoccupation; and I hold that in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man, fires are burning" (Yves Klein, 'Chelsea Hotel Manifesto', New York, 1961 cited in: Pierre Restany, Yves Klein: Fire at the Heart of the Void, Connecticut 2005, p.XV).