Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Sam Francis
1923 - 1994
UNTITLED (SF86 - 893)
signed and dated 1986 on the reverse
acrylic and gouache on paper
181.7 by 94.7 cm. 71 1/2 by 37 1/4 in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report


Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo (acquired directly from the artist)
Private Collection, Tokyo
Christie's, New York, 15 May 2002, Lot 162
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Tokyo, Nantenshi Gallery, Sam Francis: 1957-1986, January - February 1987
London, Bernard Jacobson, Sam Francis, June - July 2014


Debra Burchett-Lere, Ed., "Untitled, 1973 (SF86-893)" Sam Francis: Online Catalogue Raisonné Project

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1986, Untitled (SF86-813) testifies to Sam Francis’ life-long engagement with abstract painting. The rhythmic strokes and vibrant use of colour is utterly paradigmatic of the artist’s oeuvre; he believed that colour was an expression of his unconscious visions. “Colour is a kind of holy substance for me, It’s the element in painting which I am most fascinated with. It is an element of painting which overcomes me… Color in a way is a receptacle for a feeling and a way for you to hold it until understanding arrives or meaning is extracted” (Sam Francis in conversation with Michael Blackwood, Sam Francis, dir. Michael Blackwood Productions Inc., 1975-76).

Due to a plane crash, Francis was hospitalised from a young age which left him with severe back injuries and a long period spent in hospital; here he was fascinated by the reflections and colours that were created in his white hospital room. This is portrayed in his works with the white background and splattered blotches of colour which could be reminiscent of these early memories of his hospital room. In the present work, Francis explores the interplay between light and colour which are enhanced by the materials used. Many of his peers worked with the figurative subject matter unlike Francis who was more interested in the composition, the attributes of his painterly medium and space. From the 1950s, Francis  began to completely take over the picture plan, allowing the viewer to feel the sense of freedom that he got from painting. By the mid-1980s, his application of paint had become thicker and more resolute and the works from this period resonate with colour which is apparent in the present work.

Francis recreated the physical act of painting for himself using a wide range of materials, mixing his own colours to create his own highly saturated pigments. His longtime assistant, Dan Cytron recalls; “Sam could afford any pigments he wanted and he wanted colours which were rare or obscure, such as real cadmium, or cobalt-based colors, not available to the general public” (Dan Cytron cited in: Tom Learner, Rachel Ribenc and Aneta Zebala, ‘Notes on Sam Francis’ Painting Methods and Materials in Two Grid Paintings’, in: Debra Burchett-Lere, Ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994, Oakland 2011, p. 3). Indeed, Untitled (SF86-813) draws the viewer into another spatial system entirely, pushing beyond what has been done before and into a realm of his own.

Contemporary Art Day Auction