Lot 29
  • 29

Pierre Soulages

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
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  • Pierre Soulages
  • Peinture 125 x 202cm, 30 Octobre 1958
  • signed; signed and dated 58 on the reverse and signed and titled on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
  • 125 by 202cm.; 49 1/4 by 79 1/2 in.


Kootz Gallery, New York

Edward A. Bragaline, New York (acquired from the above on 3 March 1959)

Sale: Christie’s, London, 20th Century Art Part II, 1 July 1999, Lot 612 

Private Collection

Sale: Ravenel, Taipei, Modern Art v.s. Contemporary Art, 18 June 2000, Lot 6 

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


New York, Kootz Gallery, Soulages, 1959, n.p., illustrated

Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft; Essen, Folkwang Museum; The Hague, Gemeente Museum; and Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Pierre Soulages, 1960-61, p. 26, no. 55, illustrated

New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Twentieth Century Masters from The Bragaline Collection, 1963, n.p., no. 32, illustrated 


Pierre Encrevé, Soulages: L’oeuvre complet, Peintures, Vol. I, 1946-1959, Paris 1994, p. 262, no. 343, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is lighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

Intensely dramatic and completely engrossing, Peinture 125 x 202cm, 30 Octobre 1958 captures Pierre Soulages’ career long commitment to the primacy of form over illusion and dates from one of the artist's most sought after periods of creative production. By the end of the 1950s Soulages had forged his place within the contemporary art world. Gaining increasing international acclaim he exhibited his works at the XXVI Venice Biennale in 1952, as well as at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1953 and 1959, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1957. Directly addressing the tensions between form, colour and light on the painted surface, the present work reveals the artist’s total mastery of an unadulterated expression: "What matters to me is what happens on the canvas. No two brushstrokes are ever the same. Every stroke has its own specific and irreducible attributes: shape, length, thickness, consistency, texture, colour, and transparency. Any particular brushstroke establishes a relationship with other forms on the canvas, with the background and with the surface as a whole" (Pierre Soulages in conversation with Bernard Ceysson in: Bernard Ceysson, Eds., Soulages, New York and Switzerland 1980, p. 77).

Lavishly glowing washes of an almost golden pigment adorn the right side of the canvas, invaded by swathes of profound darkness. The density of the black against the smooth background of yellow instils the work with an immense visual depth and creates an incandescent vibrancy as light not only reflects off the black ridges that solidify across the surface of the canvas, but also seems to burst through the veils of black paint: an orchestration of light composed through the careful control of colour and form. The commandingly linear passage of paint strokes exist in a world entirely unencumbered by allusions of objectivity. Yet, despite this apparent negation of any element of imagery, the expressively delineated washes of pigment arguably recall one of Soulages’ earliest influences, the sight of bare tree branches dramatically silhouetted again an icy sky: “Was my childhood fondness for bare trees due to my love of black as a colour? Or was it the other way round? Did I begin to love black because of the trees in winter without their leaves; because of the way the black trunks and branches stood out against the background of sky or snow, making them look brighter by contrast…” (Pierre Soulages in conversation with Bernard Ceysson in: ibid., p. 60).

Constructing his paintings out of elements that are structural but outlines that are random, Soulages' work has resisted an absolute adherence to either geometric or lyrical abstraction, instead existing at the junction between the two. After World War II there quickly arose a connection between philosophical, moral and cultural despair, verbalised by Theodor Adorno with his famous proclamation that 'there can be no poetry after Auschwitz' in 1951, and an approach to painting that strove for a return to man's primitive origins in an effort to wipe out the atrocities of the previous generation. While Soulages rejects the existential negation that was intrinsic to both the paintings and the theoretical discourse of his European contemporaries, his work interestingly evokes the awe-inspiring canvases and emotional intensity of the most notable American Abstract Expressionists including Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Going beyond the dimensions of the easel, Soulages' work echoes these artists as they challenge the viewer, commanding an intensification of the human experience as they stand before the work. However, while the work of Kline and many other Abstract Expressionists invite the spectator to lose themselves within the canvas' sublimity, the planular layers of Soulages' compositions provide no psychological entry into his work, but rather block the viewer and fix them to the surface, imposing a visual investigation of tangible reality through texture and form.

Refusing to compartmentalise the meaning of his paintings into a specific chronological period, an approach the artist believes to be a misguided denial of a work's unique compositional character, Soulages instead situates his work outside of history, allowing each to convey an autonomous beauty regardless of time or place: "I don't depict. I don't narrate. I don't represent. I paint, I present" (Pierre Soulages in conversation with Michael Peppiatt, Art International, November-December 1980, n.p.).