Sam Francis - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 16, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Estate of the Artist, California (acquired in 1994)
    Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam
    Baukunst Galerie, Cologne
    Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

    Debra Burchett-Lere, ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, no. SFF.1376, DVD I (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Painted by an artist at the height of his expressive powers, Sam Francis’ Untitled belongs to his best known and most prominent series of the early 1960s, Blue Balls. In Untitled, splashes of green and yellow increase the dynamism of an elegant composition defined by blue cell-like globules of energy that swirl about the canvas, aesthetic elements characteristic of this series. Travelling and working at this time in Paris, Bern, Tokyo, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, Francis’ preoccupation with the color blue, one of his strongest concentrations on a single color, persisted across continents. Other examples from this critically lauded series are housed in important institutions such as Blue Balls V at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Blue Balls VIII at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

    In 1960, Francis began suffering from a number of health issues leading to extended periods of hospitalization and convalescence that permeated his artistic practice and inspired his Blue Balls series. Though Francis had been drawn to the color blue since early in his career, it became the principal color in this deeply personal and expressive series, manifesting in his works as organic forms that serenely float or frantically dance against a stark white background. In a letter to his friend Yoshiaki Tono in 1961 discussing his feelings during this period of illness, Francis reflected: “I live in a paradise of hellish blue balls – merely floating, everything floats, everything floats – where I carry this unique mathematics of my imagination through the succession of days towards a nameless tomorrow... So I continue to make my machines of strokes, dabs and splashes and indulge in my dialectic of eros—objectively for myself and subjectively in the eyes of the audience” (Sam Francis, quoted in Peter Selz, Sam Francis, 1982, New York, p. 80).

    While in many aspects a continuation of Francis’ earlier, iconic traits, such as the unique gestural quality and explosive biomorphic forms, Untitled also reflects an openness and clarity characteristic of art of the 1960s. In a review of Gagosian Gallery’s impressive 1991 exhibition Blue Balls in New York, Roberta Smith described: “The Blue Balls paintings reflect an artist determined to bring the emotional fervor of Abstract Expressionism (especially that of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning) forward into a brave new world of 1960's art, a world in which coolness, style, emotional understatement and formal overstatement were the paramount goals. In them, Mr. Francis progressively intensified his color, broke up and magnified his cellular vocabulary and created enormous ovoid shapes - partly organic, partly calligraphic - that he boldly played against great expanses of white canvas" (Roberta Smith, "Sam Francis, at the Height of His Powers," The New York Times, June 7, 1991, online). Furthermore, the Blue Balls series marked a departure from the brighter and dense, chaotic works of the 1950s and signaled a move towards a more minimal aesthetic that would define Francis’ later works, most notably his works of the late 1960s. In Untitled, the pared down palette and signature splatters signify an emotional release that recalls the autobiographical reference of this outstanding series and stands testament to Francis’ unparalleled approach to abstraction.



stamped with the artist's signature "Sam Francis" by the Sam Francis Estate on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
70 3/4 x 86 3/4 in. (179.7 x 220.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1962-1986.

This work is identified with the archival identification number SFF.1376 in consideration for the forthcoming addendum to the Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, to be published by the Sam Francis Foundation. This information is subject to change as scholarship continues by the Sam Francis Foundation.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $370,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018