Lot 611
  • 611

Sam Francis

3,600,000 - 4,600,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Sam Francis
  • Untitled
  • acrylic on canvas
signed, stamped with the Sam Francis Estate logo, facsimile signature
stamps and dated 1988 on the reverse, framed
This work is identified with the archival identification number of SFF.1490 in consideration for the forthcoming addendum to the Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, to be published by the Sam Francis Foundation. This information is subject to change as scholarship continues by the Sam Francis Foundation. This work is alternatively registered with the Sam Francis Foundation under archive number SFP88-72 and SFP88-77.


Estate of the Artist
Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam (acquired from the above in 1996)
Collection Meulensteen, Slovakia 
Sotheby's New York, S|2 Gallery, Sam Francis: The Exploration of Color: A Selling Exhibition, September - October 2011, Lot 32
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Palo Alto, Smith Andersen Gallery, Sam Francis: Four Decades, February - April 1988
New York, Associated American Artists, Sam Francis Prints and Drawings 1957- 1989, January - February 1990 (illustrated in color)
New York, Associated American Artists, New Painting: From Frank Faulkner, Sam Francis, Neil Marshall, Jules Olitski, James Walsh, April - May 1990, cat. no. 7 (illustrated in color)
Bratislava, Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, Sam Francis: Retrospective in Blue, June - August 2010, pp. 178-9 (illustrated in color)
New York, Sotheby's S|2 Gallery, Sam Francis: The Exploration of Color: A Selling Exhibition, September - October 2011, p. 73, Lot 32 (illustrated in colour)


Debra Burchett-Lere, Ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, cat. no. 792, illustrated in color on DVD
Pasadena Museum of California Art/Crocker Art Museum, Sam Francis: Five Decades of Abstract Expressionism from California Collections, 2013–2014, p.165, fig. 67 (illustrated in color)


This work is in very good condition overall. Evidence of very minor wear and handling along four extreme edges of the work, only visible upon close examination and under raking light. Very discrete bubbles are observed to be scattered throughout the work, inherent to the nature of the artist's chosen medium and are only visible upon close examination. Minor warping of thick impasto paint measured approximately 4 cm long is observed, located 13 cm from the bottom and 25 cm from the right edge of the work, which is inherent to the nature of the artist's chosen medium. No evidence of conservation observed when examined under UV light. Framed.
"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

Considered as one of twentieth century’s leading post-war American artists, Sam Francis has incorporated into his work his exposure to European art, Zen philosophy and Asian calligraphy during his extensive travels around the world.  Exploring the relationship amongst colour, light, and space, the artist has displayed his virtuosity in employing painterly expressions in extraordinary variability.

Executed in 1988, the current work was painted during the mature heights of the artist’s fifty-year career. The vibrant, aqueous pigments in bold, saturated swaths and frivolous flicks typify the series of untitled works that Francis exuberantly produced during the late 1980s. During this period of artistic production, the artist’s compositions have evolved from the grid-like formats populating his canvases in the late1970s to displaying his new interest in vivid undulating strips and drips. The poignant colours in the current painting trickle like weak pulsating veins over, under and through a disorder of vigorous splatters. At times, they dance and float in unity on and amongst dispersed patches of white. However, the viewer’s prolonged gaze on the work provokes the questioning of whether these colours are in fact precipitates forming a bed beneath the brilliant slices of white.

This lack of hierarchy amongst forms, colours, and most importantly, whiteness, is archetypal of Francis’ paintings. His oeuvre ceases to uphold the art historical trope of illusionism and celebrates the Modernist embrace of painting’s two-dimensionality. Relieved from their duality of suggesting the presence and absence of space, the role of white, as well as surfaces intentionally left blank, has a renewed significance in Francis’ painterly realm. If colour to Francis is ‘light on fire’, then the whiteness or the colourless is light at its full potential to be ignited, bearing the same weight and importance as any colour palette. (Sam Francis cited in Jan Butterfield, Sam Francis, Los Angeles 1980, pp. 9-10) The famous French philosopher, Jean-François Lyotard, was so intrigued by the artist’s life-long conquest of white as a new painterly language that he wrote extensive poetic commentaries compiled into one volume focusing solely on Francis’ abstract corpus.

It is often tempting and easy to read Sam Francis’ use of colours in parallel with his biographical anecdotes. Francis chanced upon his passion in painting during his bedridden days, suffering from a back injury while serving in United States Air Force during World War II.  For almost three years, he was surrounded by the white walls of the hospital where he began painting as a hobby. When he was diagnosed with life-threatening tuberculosis in 1960, the colour blue dominated his works. Brighter hues along with white reconquered his paintings when he had recovered and moved to California. Episodes experienced in life by Francis’ have undoubtedly provided colour context for his painterly manifestations; however, it is Francis’ contribution towards the radical change in the reading of white in pictorial spaces that interests Lyotard. It is to the philosopher’s comprehension that white is an ore when colours are yet to be extracted and hence it represents what he described as chromatic blindness and nothingness. So when the juxtaposition of the variegated and the blank mutually enhances their voluminous presence and incandescent glow, Lyotard praised Francis’ ability to be able to employ this medium of ‘nothingness’ and create a ‘contradictory bouquet to the glory of what seeing can and cannot do.’ (Sam Francis, Lesson of Darkness, Leuven University Press 2010, p.30) Under the artist’s brush, white is no longer a chromatic void but chromatic brilliance, one that has the capacity to both conceal and unleash the fire in light.

In 1950, Francis moved to France and lived in Paris for eight years. While he immersed himself into the mesmerising colours of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, he was also exposed to artistic influences that had travelled from another end of the globe. A wave of Chinese and Japanese artists congregated in Paris during the early 1950s; amongst them were Modern masters such as Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-Chun and Imai Toshimitsu. Francis’ fascination with Asian philosophy propelled him to adapt into his works large expanse of white or blank spaces characteristic of the Chinese and Japanese aesthetic of less is more. William C. Agee commented, ‘With this new openness, we are given more breathing room in which to move around the paint and the surface, with areas of white now modulating the color zones, pulling them back as we would part a curtain and affording us a glimpse of another kind of space…the space of infinity.’(Quoted in Debra Burchett-Lere, Ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley 2011, p. 74)

Thus stated, the blank and the empty in Francis’ painting balances the expressiveness of colours while providing a simple elegant space for the substitution and expansion of the viewer’s imagination. Furthermore, the artist travelled to Japan in 1957 to live and work in a temple in Tokyo where he also studied haboku (traditional Japanese flung-ink painting) and ikebana (the art of flower arrangement). Both of the mentioned artistic forms have found resonance in the current work’s gestural dynamic rendering. However, while Francis’ painterly forms are inherently abstract, they are also distinctly organic. The composition of the current work itself still bears reminiscence of the artist’s earlier visual vocabulary, whereby his paintings were dominated by cellular structures that resemble microscopic organisms. Magnified into a kaleidoscope of visual feast, the quivering motion of biomorphic pigments draws the keen viewer to look closely in attempt to discern the traces of the artist’s invisible hand while the austerity of white pushes the viewer back in order to take in the chromatic abyss as a whole, leaving the viewer dazed and in awe.