Serge Poliakoff - Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale London Thursday, June 27, 2024 | Phillips
  • “Poliakoff does not simply invent curved or straight planes on the design stone so as to colour them in. They flow from him as if they were the natural truth of nature itself. Like Juan Gris, Poliakoff is a deductive painter. For him, it is nature that is abstract while it is art that is concrete.”
    —Will Grohman

    Between palette knife and brush, Serge Poliakoff achieves an equilibrium between colour and form in Composition. Split down the vertical axis, each interlocking shape - though asymmetric - is harmonious. Smouldering in its intensity, Poliakoff expresses the drama of light and dark across the canvas, fusing the luminous plains of scarlet and black to balance pigment and form. It was this seamlessly that Poliakoff endeavoured to reach as he reflected, ‘when a picture is silent, that means it’s worked’.i


    Dating from a moment of profound success for Poliakoff - exhibiting at the French Pavilion in the XXXI Venice Biennale and decorated in France as Commander in the Ordre des Art et de Lettres in 1962 - the present work demonstrates Poliakoff’s increasingly pure abstract language that commenced from the 1950s. Though born in Moscow on the 8th January 1900, Poliakoff spent the majority of his working career in France, a leading member of the 'New' École de Paris. Among tachist artists like Pierre Soulages and Hans Hartung, Poliakoff embraced the lyricism and liberty afforded by colour that could operate alongside the severity of geometric abstraction. ‘The form’s contour’ insists Poliakoff, ‘must be precise but free, and the form, meanwhile, must appear to be cut out with a pair of scissors’.ii


    The thirteenth of fourteen children, Poliakoff’s early family life was spent among horses (his father supplied the Czar’s regiments); learning the guitar and taking drawing lessons, comforts that quickly vanished with the Russian Revolution in 1917. A talented musician, Poliakoff initially earnt his living by playing guitar, resolving to devote his life to art in 1929, enrolling at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and then the Académie Frochot in Montparnasse alongside the Grosvenor School of Art and the Slade School of Art during his stay in London. After returning to Paris in 1937 where he had his first solo exhibition, Poliakoff’s meetings with Wassily Kandinsky alongside Robert and Sonia Delaunay left an indelible impression, influencing the artist to embrace abstraction.


    Poliakoff’s work is held in over one hundred public collections internationally, including, among many others, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate, London and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, which hosted Poliakoff’s major retrospective of nearly seventy paintings from October 2013 to February 2014.



    i Serge Poliakoff, quoted in Caroline Rossiter, ‘Serge Poliakoff: Silent Pictures’, Apollo Magazine, 5 February 2014, online.

    ii Serge Poliakoff, quoted in Gérard Durozoi, ‘On the Road to Maturity’, Serge Poliakoff: Monograph. Volume I, 1900-1954, Paris, 2004, p. 173

    • Provenance

      Galerie Louis Carré & Co, Paris​
      Galerie Melki, Paris ​
      Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1997, lot 116
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Serge Poliakoff, 11 June-31 July 1966, no. 98, p. 16
      Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Serge Poliakoff, 1970, no. 63, p. 58
      Kobenhavn, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Oslo, Kunsternernes Hus; Trondhjems Kunstforening; Lillehammer Bys Malerisamlung, Serge Poliakoff, 3 March-14 July 1972, no. 23, p. 18

    • Literature

      Alexis Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff: Catalogue Raisonne, Volume IV - 1963-1965, Galerie de France, 2011, no. 962056, p. 159 (illustrated)



signed 'Serge Poliakoff' lower right
oil on canvas
80.8 x 65.1 cm (31 3/4 x 25 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1964.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 180,000 ‡♠

Contact Specialist

Louise Simpson
Associate Specialist
+44 7887 473 568

Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale

London Auction 27 June 2024