Lot 512
  • 512

Pierre Soulages

4,500,000 - 6,500,000 HKD
7,520,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Pierre Soulages
  • Peinture 92 x 65 cm, 1955
  • signed, titled, dated 1955 and inscribed with the catalogue number 184 on the reverse 
  • oil on canvas
  • 92 by 65 cm, 36 1/4  by 25 5/8  in. 


Private Collection, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Hamburg, Deichtorhallen, Pierre Soulages - Malerei als Farbe und Licht, Retrospective 1946 - 1997, May 16 - August 18, 1997


Pierre Encrevé, Soulages, L'oeuvre complet Peintures I. 1946-1959, Seuil, Paris, 1994, p. 194, cat. no. 184, illustrated 
Pierre Encrevé, Soulages, L'oeuvre complet Peintures III. 1979-1997, Seuil, Paris, 1998, p. 345

Catalogue Note

Peinture 92 x 65 cm, 1955 stems from one of the most sought-after decades of the Pierre Soulages’ oeuvre, and this particular year witnesses the artist’s early foray into the employment of larger, contrasting and incisive brushstrokes. Also unique about this piece is that it portrays a subtle array of brown to orange hues, making it a rare piece from this period that is usually marked by the colors beige, brown and black. Far from a dark palette, the present work is composed of harmonious and subdued tinges of cerise, orange and scintillas of white, beige and light browns in varying swathes. The artist used limited shades of colours throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and from 1979 onwards would focus solely on black which would dominate the entirety of his outrenoir canvases.

Black, nonetheless, is the most prevalent hue in Peinture 92 x 65 cm, 1955, a habitual quality for a work by Pierre Soulages although the artist himself notes: “I don’t work with black…I work with the light that reflects it.” Indeed, the supplementary colours of the work highlight the shifting light of the blacks, transforming the pigmentation with the combination of hues: the blacks are metamorphosed, as are the crimson, auburn, and touch of brown. And light is tested by not only colour manipulation, but also by the artist’s practice of impasto – the layering of thick paint to create a three-dimensional texture that provides an entirely new world of possibilities in light reflection. 

In the present work there is a lack of fluid gestures, with a focus instead on straight, vertical beams of directional striations. These linear fractures and peeking gaps of colour seen up close exemplify a virtuoso touch, a manifestation of the artist’s practice of the repetitive gesture. The verticality of strokes constitutes a distinction from many of Soulages’ works to come which employ diagonal sweeps or show horizontal compositions in direction and flow. This implies that by using primarily straight, vertical strokes in Peinture 92 x 65 cm, 1955, the artist is intentionally providing a straight-headed sense of structure and balance in form. This balanced, architectural structure acts as a quartet of sorts, with the theme of slight reds and whites acting as protagonist, while the darker strokes of greys and blacks act as bass accompaniment. This concentration on independent brushstrokes, without acknowledgement of the totality of strokes during the process of painting, emphasises Soulages’ devotion to independent outline over overarching impression. The piece is microcosmic: each stroke is independent and speaks for itself, with the resulting form constituting an artistic surprise for both artist and viewer. This lack of anecdote forces the viewer to delve into his subconscious for an emotional response, and the relationship between the combination of brushstrokes and numerous hues requires the viewer’s cogitative effort to form his own thesis accordingly.   

Most of all, these vertical, brash strokes of brushwork in splendid disarray resemble the layered scaffolding of a post-war industrial building under construction. This reference to architecture is a recurring theme in Soulages’ practice. An amateur architect himself, several of his painting tools are taken from industrial construction – he executes his epic incisions with scrapers, rakes, rollers, and other building contraptions. The paint is often scratched while still fresh, providing streaks of alternate colour within each stroke and revealing the underlying layers of paint simmering through to the surface layer. Here Soulages once again demonstrates his mastery of delineating light and his manipulation of colour.

Soulages had already achieved international acclaim by the 1950s, having exhibited at the 26th Venice Biennale in 1952, and in a group exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1953. He was represented by the most celebrated New York dealer Samuel Kootz in the ‘50s – ‘60s as a French prototype to the Abstract Expressionist school of New York where the likes of Mark Rothko and Franz Kline took reign. Not only did Soulages travel to the United States, he also went together with Zao Wou-Ki to Asia, specifically Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara in 1958, where they met avant-garde Japanese calligraphers. Soulages, however, had a preference for being independent from artistic movements: possibly, this reflects the independence of his works, each of which stands on its own, namelessly speaking for itself. But it is this counterpoint of independence and interdependence – as discussed, shrouded in the mystery of the de-contextualized, that makes Peinture 92 x 65 cm, 1955 so arresting. The straight, incandescent brushstrokes provide demarcated bounds to the frame of the work, but it is the uncalculated imagination of both the artist and viewer that makes the work, ultimately, boundless.