Sam Francis - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips
  • “The space at the center of these paintings is reserved for you.”
    — Sam Francis

    Illustrating a fluid composition within a grid-like structure, Sam Francis’ Untitled SFF.771, 1980, features a vibrant dance of blots encircling a red central spot. Beginning his exploration into the grid as a compositional anchor in the late 1970s, the artist interrogated the conventions of formalist painting while honing the spiritual concepts of space and energy that are central to his practice. While his application of color might seem arbitrary, there is logic and organization to Francis’ method. Amorphous shapes of indigo occupy the left vertical edge of the canvas, while emerald green is the color of choice along the right side of the image. Patches of vibrant reds and yellows are applied more sparingly, but their presence imbues the work with a pop of brightness which stands in contrast to the darkness of the blues and greens. Smaller blotches of purple add a subtle warmness to the composition, while Pollockian drips of paint enliven the work. While the patches are applied more carefully, these dots and lines of paint reflect a more gestural mode of painting.


    Taking visual cues from Hans Hofmann, who taught at the artist’s alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley in the early 1930s, Francis relies on the organization and movement of various rectangular forms of color and space to create his compositions. Similarly inspired by Tachisme – the European response to American Abstract Expressionism, which he discovered during his travels to Paris in the 1950s – Francis uses dabs, or taches, of color with a more controlled approach than his peers. Additionally, Francis’ more calligraphic strokes reflect an interest in Japanese artmaking, which he came into contact with upon his first trip to Japan in 1957. Francis’ practice thus reflects the fusion of Eastern and Western styles, positioning himself as a truly international artist.


    Hans Hofmann, Sparks, 1957. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Image: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston / Bequest of Caroline Wiess Law / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: With permission of the Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Currently, Sam Francis’ work is the subject of an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art called Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing—an apt title for an artist whose vibrant compositions enliven any white gallery wall.

    • Provenance

      André Emmerich Gallery, New York
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Gordes, L'Abbaye de Sénanque, Centre International de Création Artistique, Sam Francis: Oeuvres nouvelles, May 31–August 10, 1980
      New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Sam Francis: Recent Work, April 23–May 22, 1981 (exhibited as the middle panel in a triptych)
      Bern, Galerie Kornfeld, Sam Francis: Ausstellung, Ölbider und farbige Zeichnungen von 1976-1983, March 16–April 14, 1983, no. 6 (illustrated)
      Milan, Studio Marconi, Sam Francis: Opere dal 1960 al 1983, May 12–June 15, 1983

    • Literature

      Debra Burchett-Lere, ed., Sam Francis: Online Catalogue Raisonné Project, no. SFP80-41, online (illustrated)

Property from an Important Collection, Los Angeles


Untitled SFF.771

signed with the artist's initials and dated "S.F. 1980" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
95 1/4 x 59 in. (241.9 x 149.9 cm)
Painted in 1980.

Full Cataloguing

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $571,500

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023