Lot 147
  • 147

Sam Francis

200,000 - 300,000 USD
555,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Sam Francis
  • Untitled
  • signed on the reverse
  • acrylic and oil on canvas


Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner 


Pasadena Museum of California Art; Sacramento, Crocker Art Museum, Sam Francis: Five Decades of Abstract Expressionism from California Collections, August 2013 - April 2014, cat. no. 67, p. 110, illustrated in color
Charlotte, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Sam Francis: Rapid Fluid Indivisible Vision, September 2015 - March 2016

Catalogue Note

Sotheby’s is deeply honored to present Untitled from 1973 on behalf of the Sam Francis Foundation, with proceeds to benefit educational programs including the continued undertaking of the artist's catalogues raisonné project. The Foundation's core mission builds on Francis' creative legacy and is dedicated to the transformative power of art as a force for change, as their mission "is to further a greater understanding of Francis’ art and ideas through a broad array of programs and activities designed to educate, inform, and catalyze new thinking about the importance of creativity in society."

In 1973, when the present work was executed, Francis had firmly established himself as one of the leading abstract painters of his generation. As a major retrospective of his work was touring the United States including stops at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Dallas Museum of Art, Francis chose to split his time between studios in California, Japan and Switzerland. It is during this pivotal year that Francis centered and purified his composition to the point of developing a formal grid (or matrix according to his preferred terminology) that, while rigid in its form, ranged from open and simple to more dense and dark in nature. He soon alternated between creating grid and beam paintings which, with tracks of paint intersecting at multiple points, maintained an underlying structure yet introduced a kinetic dynamism via their asymmetries and ability to open up larger swaths of space across the canvas. As curator and art historian William C. Agee states in his essay for the Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994 (Berkeley 2011, p. 105), "the matrix and random beam paintings account for some of the true high points in Francis' art, for he was working at this time with the greatest intensity and consistency since the late 1950s."

Francis' new approach to space and structure, which would allow colors to be expressed in an exciting new framework, would prove to be completely uncorrelated with the scale of the work. As Debra Burchett-Lere, Executive Director and President of the Sam Francis Foundation and Aneta Zebala, paintings conservator and contributor state in their forthcoming publication (scheduled for February 2019 release) with the Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, Sam Francis: The Artist's Materials, "Untitled (1973) demonstrates a principal factor in Francis’ oeuvre—his ability to create a powerful impact regardless of the work’s size. Only 42 by 30 inches, this work carries just as much intensity and focused energy as a mural-sized painting over 20 feet tall, many times larger than Francis' body height. Francis noted that he usually decided on the size of a painting 'by a body feeling, a physiological relationship between me and the canvas...It has to do with the balance. If I don't feel like balancing my body against something bigger than me, I don't do it. Then I concentrate on something smaller'."