Pierre Soulages - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Monday, February 8, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Pierre Soulages: Master of Black and Light

    The two key elements that run throughout Pierre Soulages' work: light and color. Here, we're talking about the color black. As seen in 'Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 Avril 1962' black is the core of his palette and he has stayed loyal to it throughout his career. Phillips' 20th Century & Contemporary Art Specialist Henry Highley presents Pierre Soulages 'Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 Avril 1962', 1962 in advance of our 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 9 February at Phillips Berkeley Square in London.

  • Provenance

    The Collection of Mr and Mrs Samuel Kootz, New York
    Private Collection
    Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 6 December 1990, lot 28
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Pierre Soulages: Retrospective, 19 April-22 May 1966
    Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Soulages, 22 March-21 May 1967, no. 53
    Montreal, Musée d’Art Contemporain, Soulages, 23 July-1 September 1968, no 15
    Quebec, Musée du Quebec, Soulages, 26 September-21 October 1968, no. 15

  • Literature

    J. Johnson Sweeney, Soulages, Neuchatel: Ides et Calendes, 1972, no. 84, p. 133 (illustrated)
    J. Johnson Sweeney, Soulages, Greenwich: New York Graphic Society, 1972 (illustrated)
    J. Johnson Sweeney, Soulages, London: Phaidon, 1973 (illustrated)
    J. Johnson Sweeney, Soulages, Stuttgart: Belser. 1973 (illustrated)
    P. Daix and J. Johnson Sweeney, Pierre Soulages, Neuchatel: Ides et Calendes, 1991, p. 108 (illustrated) and p. 230
    P. Encreve, ed., Soulages L’oeuvre Complet Peintures, Catalogue Raisonne, Volume Two: 1959-1978, numbered 489, p.105 (illustrated, with incorrect provenance and ownership)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Pierre Soulages' Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 avril 1962 is an important painting by one of the world's most revered living artists. This picture formed a part of the personal collection of the legendary New York art dealer Sam Kootz, and also featured in two of Soulages' most important early retrospectives, in Houston in 1966 and in Paris in 1967.

    Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 avril 1962 comprises a rhythmic progression of black bars that form an arc across the expanse of the canvas. Some of them are opaque, allowing the light of the background to glimmer through, like the embers of a pale fire. In places, the paint has a viscous quality that adds to both the texture of the painting and to its play of light, serving as a precursor to the monochrome 'Outrenoir' pictures that have dominated his output in more recent decades.

    Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 avril 1962 dates from a period when Soulages allowed the background to add a luminosity to his pictures, thrusting the black into bolder relief. 'I have always loved black, even in my childhood paintings,' Soulages has explained. '[…] It has always remained at the base of my palette. It is the most intense, the most violent, absence of colour, which confers an intense and violent presence to colours, even to white: like a tree renders the sky blue' (Soulages, quoted in P. Encrevé, ed., Soulages: L’oeuvre complet: Peintures, Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. II, Paris, 1995, p. 37).

    This picture shares compositional similarities with pictures such as Peinture 202 x 156 cm, 27 mars 1961, which was created before the eyes of its former owner Roger Vailland, who documented it in an article entitled 'Comment travaille Pierre Soulages'. At the same time, it appears to serve as a precursor to the monumental Peinture 265 x 202 cm, 15 décembre 1962, now in the Sonja Henie-Niels Onstad Kunstsentret, Hovikodden.

    Looking at Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 avril 1962, it is clear why Soulages enjoyed a great popularity in the United States during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, partly cultivated by the dealer Sam Kootz, the former owner of this picture. During the 1950s and 1960s, until he closed his gallery, Kootz showed Soulages' work on a number of occasions, as well as those of artists such as Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. On his visits to the States, Soulages was exposed to the works of his American contemporaries, and also crucially struck up friendships with a number of them. It was only too appropriate that Soulages' first major retrospective was held in the United States, organised by the celebrated museum director and collector James Johnson Sweeney after he had moved to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. There, Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 avril 1962 was shown alongside fewer than fifty other paintings in the building designed by Mies van der Rohe, many of them hanging suspended by cords from the ceiling within the vast space.

    There is a forcefulness to Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 avril 1962 that makes it easy to understand the affinity felt for Soulages' work in the United States during the era when Abstract Expressionism was still a defining force. This picture has an authoritative presence, as well as a visceral sense of the artist's own activity. Each trace of black is evidence of his movements, as he applied the paint to the canvas and dragged it across the surface. This adds an existential, experiential aspect to his work, placing him within a European context. Nonetheless, it was a dimension from which Soulages distanced himself, focussing instead on the self-determination of the picture and its emergence as an autonomous work of art. As he explained to Vaillant a year earlier: 'I cover and discover the surfaces. I do not draw lines where the people looking at my picture will once more find the movements of my hand... I am telling nothing' (Soulages, 27 March 1961, quoted in R. Vailland, 'Comment travaille Pierre Soulages', pp. 40-47 & 72, L'Oeil, No. 77, May 1961, p. 72).

Property from an Important European Collection


Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 Avril 1962

oil on canvas
162 x 130 cm (63 3/4 x 51 1/8 in.)
Signed 'Soulages' on the lower right. Further signed, titled and dated 'Soulages "14 Avril 62" 1962' on the reverse.

£2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London

+44 207 318 4063

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 9 February 2016 7pm