Pierre Soulages - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “I like the authority of black. It’s an uncompromising color. A violent color, but one that encourages internalization. Both a color and a non-color. When light is reflected on black, it transforms and transmutes it. It opens up a mental field all of its own.”
    — Pierre Soulages

    From Ancient Beginnings


    Born in Rodez in the south of France in 1909, Soulages was inspired by the region’s rich artistic heritage, from the Neolithic menhirs – large, ethereal standing stones, and some of the oldest in Europe – to the 20,000-year-old cave paintings in nearby Lascaux and Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc. He would balk at the rigid parameters that defined art, or in particular ‘great art’, reflecting on such as: ‘I have always revolted against this foolishly evolutionary conception of art which leads one to believe that there are at first awkward gropings, then that technique becomes more and more skillful and mastered, and that finally we arrive at the apotheosis of a perfectly imitative art. It must be said and repeated: there is no progress in art, only techniques that are perfected and which can lead you where you do not want to go. The painters of Lascaux or Chauvet brought art to a summit from the very start.’ i. Though it would be standing underneath the barrel vault ceiling of the famed Romanesque abbey, Sainte-Foy de Conques, that would ignite his desire to become a painter (he would return in 1986 to design windows for its renovation), his palette has never strayed far from the elemental reds, blacks and ochres used by the caves’ ancient magicians


    The Master of Black


    “A painting by Pierre Soulages is like a chord on a vast piano struck with both hands simultaneously — struck and held.” 
    Former director of the Guggenheim, James John Sweeney


    As Abstract Expressionism exploded across the world following the end of the Second World War, from its epicentre in New York to movements like Gutai in Japan and Dansaekhwa in South Korea, his early work would preempt this seismic shift in artistic production, and bestow credence to the truth that Soulages has always been his own artist.


    Pierre Soulages, Brou de noix, 1946
    © Archives Soulages/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris


    Soulages’ attention to black has been a lifelong preoccupation for the artist, one that he has mined for over 70 years in his creative production, and since 1979 with exclusive devotion. It would be in April of that year where Soulages would achieve theoretic and existential breakthrough. Up to that point, he had used black in conjunction to colour in order to elevate their brilliance, however after working on a painting only for it to be swallowed by black paint, he left it angrily; yet the next day, he saw it differently. ‘I saw that it was no longer black that gave meaning to the painting but the reflection of light on dark surfaces. Where it was layered the light danced, and where it was flat it lay still. A new space had come into being.’ ii


    What unfolded was a chromatic opulence, offered by the single tone of black. He labels this practice as Outrenoir (Beyond Black), where employing a varied apparatus (spoons, rakes, spatulas) to build his compositions, scraping, layering, etching depending on the desired surface. The artist denotes concrete spatial autonomy to the black paint, describing it as a different ‘country’.


    The present lot is a shining example of the artist's mature practice, Soulages creates a patchwork of bold horizontal strokes, whose crevasses and extrinsic tonalities producing angles and contours that allow for a latent subterfuge to emerge, where light bounces between each panel, resulting in a transcendent compositional dialogue. It is here in this balance between light and pigment that the beauty of the painting’s nuances reveals itself, and the sensitivity of the artist’s tonal intuition. As he explains in a 2019 New York Times interview, ‘Black is never the same because light changes it. There are nuances between the blacks. I paint with black but I’m working with light. I’m really working with the light more than with the paint.’ iii.



    Installation view of the present lot (far right)
    Une Expérience au présent, Opera Gallery Paris, 2021
    © Archives Soulages/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris


    Rejecting studies, drafts, or even concerted planning – ‘painting from his head’ – Soulages focuses on the inert materiality of paint as he applies it directly onto canvas, responding to it in real time to his own automatic reactions. Further subtleties are forged by literal variations in the paint itself. Starting in 2013 he began to mix pigment with acrylic resins, a combination of matte and glossy finishes that completes a sumptuous register of painterly matter.


    Though it would be easy to place Soulages in the tranche of Abstract Expressionist monochromatics like Rothko or Franz Kline, such an association proves imperfect, and would betray the fundamentals of his compositions. Instead of using pigment and surface to express emotions, the artist seeks to create experiences that overwhelm the viewer, who is invited to delve head first into his obsidian lagoons to uncover their own emotions and determine their own essential conclusions from the work; ‘A window looks outside, but a painting should do the opposite—it should look inside of us’, the artist declares iv. Indeed, this is an act of subtraction, edging away from contemporary history and the modernist tradition to something more direct, pure and primal. As such, Soulages connects his works to cave painting: ‘during thousands of years, men went underground, in the absolute black of grottoes, to paint with black.’ v


    “I always say his paintings are 51 percent light and 49 percent black. You see different colours in them at different points of the day: reds, blues, whites. They are constantly changing.”
    — Benoit Decron, founder of the Soulages Museum


    Testament to his insatiable hunger for expression and despite his 102 years of age, Soulages works without assistants, applying every stroke of paint himself and thus marking every canvas with his indelible signature. It seems right that Soulages has lived in a Sète, a regional port town in Occitanie, since 1960 - from which he can soak up the light of the Mediterranean to distil into his cavasses; to imbue his paintings with the same kind of provinciale essence that he surrounds himself with, in the creation of introverted yet fathomless worlds. 



    Collectors Digest


    Pierre Soulages’ oeuvre is revered round the globe, and is held in the collections of Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Honolulu Museum of Art; Monteal Museum of Fine Arts; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Tate, London.


    He has been awarded the Carnegie Prize, United States, 1964; Grand Prix for Painting, Paris, 1975; Rembrandt Award, Germany, 1976; Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1979; Praemium Imperiale for painting, Japan, 1994; Austrian Decoration for Science and Art, 2005; La Légion d'honneur, Paris, 2015; and the Grand prix du rayonnement français France, 2019.


    In his birthplace of Rodez is located a museum dedicated to the artist, holding over 400 pieces of his work, the largest collection of Soulages’ in the world. He is only the third artist after Picasso and Chagall to be bestowed a retrospective at the Louvre during their lifetime, in 2019.



     i Pierre Soulages, quoted in Deborah Wilk, ‘Pierre Soulages: Beyond black’, 19 September 2019, online 
     ii  ibid.
     iii  Pierre Soulages, quoted in Nina Siegal, ‘Black Is Still the Only Color for Pierre Soulages’, New York Times, 29 November 2019, online 
     iv Pierre Soulages, quoted in Zoe Stillpass, ‘Pierre Soulages’, Interview Magazine, 5 August 2014
     v  Pierre Soulages, quoted in Ben Davis, ‘Pierre Soulages, Happy to Stay in the Dark’, Artnet News, 19 June 2014

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired directly from the artist)
      Private Collection, Singapore
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Opera Gallery, Une Expérience au présent, 6 May - 12 June 2021, pp. 22-23 (illustrated)


Peinture 102 x 130 cm, 11 mars 2016

signed, titled and dated 'SOULAGES "102 x 130 11 03 2016"' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
102 x 130 cm. (40 1/8 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted 11 March 2016, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

Full Cataloguing

HK$7,500,000 - 10,000,000 

Sold for HK$8,115,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022