Lot 27
  • 27

Yves Klein

700,000 - 900,000 GBP
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  • Yves Klein
  • Untitled Fire Painting (F 104)
  • signed Yves Klein Le Monochrome and dated 1961 on the reverse
  • burnt cardboard
  • 76 by 85.5cm.; 30 by 33 5/8 in.


Galerie Tarica, Paris (acquired directly from the artist)

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1998 


Paul Wember, Yves Klein: Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne 1969, p. 133, no. F 104, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although the overall tonality is cooler in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals a few minor indentations which appear to be original to the artist's process. No restoration is apparent under ultraviolet light.
"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

Constituting a lyrical exposition of atmospheric halos, Untitled Fire Painting (F 104) is a superlative example of Yves Klein’s final aesthetic dialogue: that of fire as the ultimate visual and physical arbiter of the void. Created during 1961 with an industrial blowtorch, this corpus collectively encapsulates the most experimental and ultimate phase of Klein's exploration into the spiritual and intangible present beyond the phenomenological. With fire, Klein had arrived at a material that was simultaneously immaterial, an essential life force. Articulated in a delicate schema of incandescent ellipses and roundels, F 104 delivers the scorched trace of fire's alchemical potential and bestows physical expression to a conceptual sensibility of the void. Passing beyond his magnificent corpus of blue monochromes and sponge-reliefs, by January 1961 Klein had conceived of fire as the prima materia that would truly call forth absolute artistic and even social, freedom. Significantly in ‘The Monochrome Adventure’ Klein tellingly proclaimed: "my paintings are the ashes of my art" (Yves Klein, trans. Klaus Ottmann, Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves, New York 2007, p. 143). Igniting what would become the final legacy of Klein's artistic and philosophical genius, fire provided the artist with the ‘ultra-living element’, that which held the promise of light, life and, at the apogee of Klein's endeavour, the Immaterial.

As the very apotheosis of Klein's Blue Revolution, the scheduled exhibitions at Iris Clert's and Collete Allendy's galleries in Paris during May 1957 presented a truly panoramic sampling of the artist's 'world in blue'. However, at the crux of Klein's double event were two anticipatory manifestations of the fire/void dialectic: Klein's very first fire painting installed in Colette Allendy's garden. For the execution of this work, 16 flare burns were arranged on a blue painted panel and directed towards the sky. Ignited on the night of the opening, the flare burns emitted a powerful blue incandescence that affirmed, for Klein, fire's immense potential as a vehicle of the Immaterial. Then, Klein experimented in 1958 with his work the Void, leaving the Iris Clert Gallery totally empty, Pierre Restany recalls: "The presentation of the first 'Immaterial'; a gallery room on the first floor is left entirely empty and Yves invites me to remain there alone with him in silence so as to witness the 'presence of pictorial sensibility reduced to raw matter'... Thus fire rejoined with the void through an ethereal and tangible, material/immaterial synthesis" (Pierre Restany, Yves Klein: Fire at the Heart of the Void, Connecticut 2005, p. 4).

Four years later, on 19th July 1961, Klein began work on his corpus of fire paintings at a research facility, located near Paris at the Centre d'Essais du Gaz de France in Saint-Denis. For two days the artist explored the possibilities of variously scorching prepared Swedish reinforced card. This magnetised surface was highly resistant and could only be combusted using the experimental laboratories' giant gas burners capable of covering large areas. In F 104, the pure and concentrated application of the fire hose has engendered a landscape of floating oval halos, lessening in density from top to bottom. Lyrically fixing the unforgiving and unyielding force of fire, the atmospheric and diffused fiery language here radiates a truly cosmological allusion via a topography of burning sun-spots. Like moving shadows, the delicate and nuanced form of F 104 underlines transience yet fixes it into raw physical artefact. As expounded by the artist the very same year this work was created: "All facts that are contradictory are genuine principles of universal explanation. Fire is truly one of these genuine principles that are essentially self-contradictory, being at the same time mildness and torture in the heart and origin of our civilisation. What provokes my search for the trace of sentimentality through the fabrication of super-graves and super-coffins, what provokes my search for the trace of fire, why should I search for the Trace itself? Because every work of creation, regardless of its cosmic order, is the representation of a pure phenomenology – All that is phenomena manifests itself. This manifestation is always distinct from form and is the essence of the immediate, the trace of the Immediate" (Yves Klein, trans. Klaus Ottmann, op. cit., p. 197).

With his Fire Paintings Klein realised the invisible concepts that had obsessed him throughout his career and which he had previously pursued through the irrepressible allure of the monochrome and the alchemical mystery of gold. As summated by Restany, this fiery realisation turned out to be the apogee of his spectacular and tragically brief career: "Through the fire's flame, Yves Klein found his style's all-powerfulness, the immediate means to setting without other recourse or alterations the trace of his sensibility's momentary states... [the Fire Paintings] reflect the entire panorama of the monochrome artist's affective life" (Pierre Restany, op. cit., p. 47). Coinciding with the very first and only full-scale retrospective of Klein's career, and executed only a year prior to the artist's sudden death, Klein's work with fire offers his furthest most point, if not the actual attainment of a universal alchemical knowledge through a medium that is at once immaterial and essential: a progenitor of light and life itself.