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
Sale: Ravenel, Taipei, Modern Art v.s. Contemporary Art, 18 June 2000, Lot 6
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
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
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.).
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