October 7, 2012


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Lot 228: Sam Francis

Lot 228: Sam Francis

Untitled (SF56-003)

Egg tempera on paper
Signed upper middle verso in pencil
Sheet: 12.75" x 14.5"; Frame: 21.125" x 22"

Sold with copy of original letter and invoice dated June 17, 1970.

Provenance: Private Collection, California (acquired from the artist June 1970)

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
Price Realized: $125,000
Inventory Id: 3594

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It was the summer of 1950 and Sam Francis was eager for a change. Having completed his master of arts at Berkeley and already gaining attention in American painting, he moved to Paris to explore the European art scene. The following ten years proved to be the most pivotal in the development of Francis’ distinctive style. Always sensitive to the light of his environment, his paintings during his first two years in Paris mirrored the gloomy winter skies. Rich gray hues contrasted with muted yellows, blues, and greens dominate these works, known as the White Paintings. Although foggy and understated, color slowly reentered the white and gray landscapes, and by 1953 darker colors were thrust to the foreground. After a successful show at the Galerie du Dragon in 1952, he was invited to participate in the major shows “Signifiants de l’informel” (1952) and “Un art Autre” (1953). He frequented Parisian cafes and bistros with American painters Al Held, Ruth Francken, and Norman Bluhm, painted watercolors at critic Georges Duthuit’s house in Aix-en-Provence, and by the mid-1950s, he had exchanged paintings with Alberto Giacometti. In 1955, just five years after moving to Paris, Francis achieved a one-man show at the Galerie Rive Droite as well as shows in Bern, Rome, and Stockholm, propelling him to international acclaim. After he was featured in the 1956 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, “Twelve Americans,” Time magazine deemed him “the hottest young painter in Paris.”

At these shows, paintings such as Big Orange (1954-55) and Red in Red (1955) compelled audiences with their magnitude and intense color outlined in white, yellow, and black, evocative of “geological strata in cross-section or a chemical suspension.” While Francis is known for these expansive canvases of nonobjective, colorful forms, throughout the 1950s, he regularly produced small and intimate paintings on paper. Francis enjoyed the properties of paper for allowing him to fully explore a color’s potential. Additionally, blue had reemerged and would remain the dominant color for years to come. In 1956, Francis painted Untitled (SF56-003), an egg tempera on paper depicting a nebulous blue formation atop layers of yellow, green, and red. In the upper left corner, a deep blue materializes from a well of black, the color that Francis described as the “color from which light emerges, often unexpectedly.” In this painting, however, black does not dominate the canvas like his works from the early 1950s. Instead, mounds of vibrant yellow - the opposite of black, according to Francis - lead foggy red, hints of green, and vigorous blues beyond the paper’s white boundaries. A notably similar painting on paper in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s permanent collection, Blue Spanish Shawl (1954-55), depicts these blue cells framed in yellow and red. Untitled (SF56-003) - for sale for the first time since it was purchased directly from Francis in 1970 - not only represents a turning point in his career, but also typifies his instinctive relationship with light and color.

Royhatn, Jeanne Greenberg, and Belinda Marcus. Sam Francis: Paintings & Works on Paper from the 50s. New York: Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art, 1999. Print. Selz, Peter. Sam Francis. New York: Abrams, 1982. Print.