Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Serge Poliakoff
1906 - 1969
signed; signed and dated 1963 on the reverse
oil on canvas
60 by 73 cm. 23 5/8 by 28 3/4 in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report


Alexandre Fernandes, Lisbon
Private Collection, Geneva
Sotheby's, London, 30 November 1995, Lot 136
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Lisbon, Galeria Dinastia, Serge Poliakoff, May - June 1972, n.p., no. 7, illustrated
Porto, Ateneu Comercial, Serge Poliakoff, June 1972, n.p., no. 7, illustrated
Paris, Galerie Pierre Levy, Poliakoff, April - July 2011, p. 39, illustrated in colour


Alexis Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff Catalogue Raisonné, Volume IV, 1963-1965, Paris 2012, p. 92, no. 63-84, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Completed in 1963, Composition Abstraite exemplifies Serge Poliakoff’s unparalleled ability to combine shape, colour, and texture, into an organic abstract whole. Executed with visibly precise brushstrokes, sparingly applied so as to reveal glimpses of the canvas beneath, this work appears as a harmonious melange of multi-coloured forms. Its sophistication and elegance speak volumes of Poliakoff’s ability in design, whilst its mood of serene grace reminds us of his 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, Poliakoff, Paris 1958, p. 36).

In 1952, Serge Poliakoff discovered the purified Cubo-Futuristic art of the Russian Modernist, Kasimir Malevich. Malevich’s pioneering Suprematist compositions and minimal palette inspired Poliakoff to reduce his compositions and thus intensify his abstract design of interconnecting hues and tones. The present work was executed at the height the artist's mastery of this pictorial technique; an outstanding example and masterful display of maturity of form, colour and compositional balance.

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. After his return to Paris, Wassily Kandinsky became a formative influence, showing Poliakoff the 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 Colour Field painters. 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 are exercises in crystallising grace and unimpeachable serenity. 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.

Contemporary Art Day Auction