Sam Francis - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Paul Jenkins, New York
    Robert Elkon Gallery, New York (?)
    Minami Gallery, Tokyo (?)
    Christie's, New York, September 23, 2003, lot 14
    Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

  • Exhibited

    Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Sam Francis, April 25 - May 28, 1963, no. 31, p. 44
    Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Sam Francis Paintings 1947-1972, September 11, 1972 - March 18, 1973, no. 88, p. 108 (illustrated)
    New York, Robert Elkon Gallery, Sam Francis: The Fifties, December 11, 1974 - January 8, 1975

  • Literature

    Peter Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, pl. 80, p. 151 (illustrated)
    Peter Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1982, pl. 86, p. 163 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “New York light is hard. Paris light is a beautiful cerulean gray. But Los Angeles light is clear and bright even in haze.” Sam Francis

    This selection of four masterworks on paper by Sam Francis, each executed between 1950-1955 during an important and formative period of the artist’s prolific career, exemplifies key stylistic characteristics that the artist explored throughout his oeuvre. California-born artist Sam Francis’ first important paintings dating to 1947 were all executed on paper, and his devotion to paper as a medium was unwavering from that point forward. Throughout his career, Francis used paper as a medium for pictorial investigations, creating both autonomous works of art and studies for larger paintings. In her review of Francis' exhibition at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1959, Dore Ashton discussed the successful qualities of the artist's watercolors, which are also present in this selection of works: "The floating, the falling (helped by rivulets of color allowed to drop down), the gratuitous meetings in space, the junctures and coincidences which Francis is best equipped to express are endowed with a magic in watercolors that the oils do not possess" (Dore Ashton, quoted in Peter Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1982, p. 73).

    In the fall of 1950, Francis moved to Paris from his native California after a brief visit to New York. Francis long considered Paris the “mother city”, having first been exposed to French culture by his own mother, who loved the language and traditions, and the city would come to nurture him at this determinative point in his career. Naturally an extrovert, Francis soon became a central member of a group of North American and Parisian artists and critics, and enrolled in Fernand Léger’s academy. Struck by the transient light of gloomy Paris skies, the artist found a studio in Paris, and his work shifted soon thereafter. Along with Francis' experience as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, the soft gray color of the city was a stimulus for the first paintings he made there, his famous white and gray series; Hydra, 1950, Untitled, circa 1950-52, and Untitled (Circle Entre Noir et Blanc), 1953-54, all executed in Paris, certainly reflect the palpable influence the city had on him at this time. The myriad of grays in Francis’ work also harks back to the light of the Bay Area, with which Francis was intimately familiar, and recalls the soft gray-whites of Kazimir Malevich’s masterpiece White on White, 1918, which the artist had seen and admired at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

    Untitled, 1955, showcases Francis’ lifelong preoccupation with color. The artist discovered his genius for high and intense color in California where he was exposed to the colors of seminal artists such as Hans Hofmann, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and Ed Corbett, his teacher at University of California, Berkeley, where he completed his master of arts in 1950. In Untitled, 1955, the dense pattern of interlocking organic forms and bright colors imbue the composition with a palpable sense of energy, and the red and yellow corpuscules appear to be engaged in limitless movement, suffused with light from behind. Francis’ gift for color is evident in the endless inflections of hues and density, allowing for a sense of openness despite the all-over composition.

    In this group of four early works on paper, Francis’ explorations into clarity and verticality are already apparent, preoccupations which would continuously be reaffirmed in the artist’s work. In Hydra, 1950, Untitled, circa 1950-52, and Untitled (Circle Entre Noir et Blanc), 1953-54, organic forms are gathered at the center of the compositions with drips flowing down the sheets, leaving a distinct sense of clarity around the papers' edges. Francis began to use drips in his work as early as 1949, a practice famously explored by Jackson Pollock as early as 1953, and Gorky by 1944. Furthermore, the four works reflect Francis’ love for working on an intimate scale, and his hand is evident in the direct and seemingly spontaneous application of medium. As Francis once said of his process of painting on paper, “Images appear, they do not come from somewhere… from the soul. It is stealing from the gods. I want to be the paper” (Sam Francis, quoted in Pontus Hulten, Sam Francis, exh. cat. Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, 1993, p. 26).

Property from the Estate of Howard Karshan


Untitled (Circle Entre Noir et Blanc)

signed and dated "Sam Francis 1953, Dec." on the reverse
ink and watercolor on paper
21 1/2 x 17 in. (54.6 x 43.2 cm.)
Executed in 1953-54.

This work is identified with the interim identification number of SF54-015 in consideration for the forthcoming Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Unique Works on Paper. This information is subject to change as scholarship continues by the Sam Francis Foundation.

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $43,750

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 14 November 2018