Lot 12
  • 12

Pierre Soulages

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Pierre Soulages
  • Peinture 81 x 60 cm, 16 octobre 1956
  • signed; signed and dated 16 oct 56 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 81 by 60cm.; 31 7/8 by 23 5/8 in.


Kootz Gallery, New York

Henri M. Peyre, New Haven

Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer Gallery, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1980


New York, Kootz Gallery, Soulages, 1957


Pierre Encrevé, Soulage: L’œuvre complet Peintures, Vol. I: 1946-1959, Paris 1994, p. 234, no. 248, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the printed catalogue are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is deeper and richer in the original and the white areas tend more towards cream. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals minor wear to the bottom corner tips and a pattern of stable drying craquelure in places throughout; this is most pronounced in two networks of hairline cracks towards the lower centre. Inspection under ultra-violet light reveals a few tiny spots of in-painting towards the bottom of the left edge and one towards the centre of the composition.
"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

With beams of radiance reflecting off of broad washes of black paint and gleaming through vivid under layers of vibrant azures, Peinture 81 x 60 cm, 16 octobre 1956 is a multifaceted orchestration of light and dark that epitomises the exceptional corpus of one of the leading figures of abstract art: Pierre Soulages. Executed in 1956, the painting dates from a seminal turning point in the artist’s idiosyncratic practice. Abandoning the symbolic signifiers that dominated his earlier works in favour of broad gestural brushwork and multifaceted chromatic luminance, the 1950s paintings were complex textural scenes that create absorbing visual experiences, rather than representational denotations. Paintings from this period are among the most desirable works of the artist’s iconic output and are housed in esteemed institutional collections, such as the National Gallery of Art, Washington; the Guggenheim, New York; and Tate, London. Emerging on the international art scene in the early 1950s with his participation in the 26th Venice Biennale in 1952 and seminal receptions at the Guggenheim New York in 1953 and 1959, Soulages has since been recognised as one of the most important French artists of his time. In recent years he has been celebrated with major retrospectives at the Centre Pompidou in 2009-10, the Musée des Beaux Arts de Lyon in 2012 and the French Academy in the Villa Medici in Rome in 2013 while the opening of Le Musée Soulages in Rodez, the artist’s birthplace in south-west France, in May 2014, has further cemented his position as one of the most important statesmen of abstract art.

As light forces its way through dense sweeps of inky black and is dispersed with a mesmeric luminescence, Peinture 81 x 60 cm, 16 octobre 1956 exemplifies the calligraphic dance of deep black that enunciates Soulages’ appreciation for the visual potential of this ‘non-colour’. Its quality as a reflector and transformer of light was elucidated by the artist when he explained: “I like the authority of black. It’s an uncompromising colour. A violent colour, but one that encourages internalisation. Both a colour and a non-colour. When light is reflected on black, it transforms and transmutes it. It opens up a mental field all of its own” (Benoit Raimbault, Pierre Soulages, Minimalissimo, Winter 2010, online resource). In Soulages' work, black is not used to introduce darkness, but is instead heralded as a bearer of light and chromatic depth. Tinged with radiant suggestions of cobalt and sapphire hues the diagonal swathes of jet black encapsulate the artist’s overarching penchant for black as a ‘contrast-former’ – intensifying the vibrancy and luminosity of other colours. The glossy layers of terse thick bands simultaneously exude radiance and sobriety, transparency and opacity, texture and form. A dramatic symphony of darkness and illumination that certifies Peinture 81 x 60 cm, 16 octobre 1956 as a magnificent example of the artist’s revered 1950s paintings.

As pointed out by Bernard Ceysson, “the paintings of Soulages display an admirable continuity, a poetry of space and light, and a mastery of form, which gives his work a unique position in the mainstream of modern art” (Bernard Ceysson, Soulages, Bergamo 1980, p. 6). At his first showing in America at the beginning of the 1950s, Soulages’ work attracted comparisons with that of the American artist Franz Kline and other goliaths of Abstract Expressionism, such as Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. However, Soulages has since defied any classification and association with the ‘isms’ of his time. While the work of many Abstract Expressionists summons the viewer to lose themselves within the canvas' sublimity, the homogenous layers of viscous paint that have solidified in dense striations across the surface of Soulages’ canvases instil his paintings with a concrete materiality, imposing a visual investigation of tangible reality through form and luminosity. Projecting a singular beauty of light, colour and texture, Peinture 81 x 60 cm, 16 octobre 1956 is a truly exceptional painting, which persuasively pronounces Soulages as a seminal protagonist within the drama of abstract art.