Lot 56
  • 56

Serge Poliakoff

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
608,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Serge Poliakoff
  • Composition Abstraite Rouge
  • signed; signed on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Galerie Maywald, Paris 

Private Collection 

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1974

Catalogue Note

Completed between 1963 and 1967, Composition Abstraite Rouge exemplifies Serge Poliakoff’s unparalleled ability to marry shape, colour, and texture, into an organic abstract whole. Executed with visibly precise brushstrokes, sparingly applied so as to reveal glimpses of a brilliant red ground beneath, this work appears as a harmonious melange of chromatic passages. Its sophistication and elegance speak volumes of this artist’s ability in design, whilst its mood of serene grace reminds us of Poliakoff’s own criteria for a successful painting: “When a picture is silent, it means it is all right. Some of my paintings start making an infernal din. They are explosive. But I am not satisfied until they have become silent. A form must be listened to, not seen” (Serge Poliakoff cited in: Michel Ragon (trans. Rita Barisse), Poliakoff, Paris 1958, p. 36).

In 1952, Serge Poliakoff discovered the purified Cubo-Futuristic art of the great Russian Modernist, Kasimir Malevich. Malevich’s pioneering Suprematist compositions and minimal palette inspired Poliakoff to reduce his pictorial vocabulary and thus intensify his abstract design of interconnecting hues and tones. The present work comes from a period where all of Poliakoff’s endeavours in this regard had reached their highest point. It is a truly outstanding example displaying a maturity of form, colour, and compositional balance entirely representative of an artist operating at the peak of his executive powers.

Having fled the Russian Revolution in 1917, Poliakoff began training in art in Paris as early as 1923, at prestigious institutions like the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. However, it wasn’t until he relocated to London, to study at the Slade School of Art in 1935, that the artist was introduced to abstraction proper. Upon his return to Paris, his compatriot Wassily Kandinsky was a formative influence, who showed Poliakoff the dramatic potential of colour as a compositional tool, rather than mere ornament. Meanwhile, Sonia and Robert Delaunay showed Poliakoff how colour could work as emotion; how deploying some hues in harmonious combination, and others in dissonant juxtaposition, could imbue a work with mood as well as endow it with aesthetic. Poliakoff took up the mantle of these first-generation abstractionists with vigour; their precedent bloomed in his praxis, and he rapidly attained global critical acclaim. Indeed, in 1962, the year before the inception of the present work, he represented France at the Venice Biennale in the very same year that he was declared a French citizen.

From a historiographic point of view, it is best to view Poliakoff as the European counterpart to the American AbstractionExpressionists. Although both parties eschewed figurative modes of depiction entirely, and created works in absolute rejection of illusionistic space, their subsequent paintings were entirely different in mood. Where the works of Jackson Pollock are brash and haphazard in composition, with pigment splurged at random, Poliakoff presents works of abstract exactitude, each colour a considered homonym at complete ease with its surroundings. Where Willem de Kooning’s paintings seem loud and dissonant – jarring, almost violent in their machismo depictions – works like Composition Abstraite Rouge are exercises in crystallising grace and unimpeachable serenity. Serge Poliakoff should be considered a worthy peer of his American contemporaries. He was as technically proficient in painting, as contextually relevant in his adoption of art-historical precedent, and he was steadfast and resolute in adherence to his stylistic goals. The present work exists as testament to the enduring power and relevance of his oeuvre.