Lot 32. Pierre Soulages (b. 1919), Peinture 162 x 130cm, 16 octobre 1966, signed 'Soulages' (lower right); signed, titled and dated ‘SOULAGES 16 Oct 66 162 x 130’ (on the reverse), oil on canvas, 63 ¾ x 51in.(162 x 130cm.) Painted in 1966. Estimate: £1,500,000 - £2,000,000. Price realised £1,811,250. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019
Provenance: Galerie de France, Paris.
Private Collection, Italy.
Art Emporium Gallery, Vancouver.
Private Collection, Vancouver.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature: P. Encrevé, Soulages, L'oeuvre complet Peintures II. 1959-1978, Paris 1995, p. 17, no. 588 (illustrated in colour, p. 171).
Exhibited: Zurich, Gimpel and Hanover Galerie, Soulages, 1967, no. 6 (illustrated, unpaged). This exhibition later travelled to London, Gimpel Fils Gallery and Paris, Galerie de France.
Montreal, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Soulages, 1968. This exhibition later travelled to Québec, Musée National Des Beaux-Arts Du Québec.
Buenos Aires, Museo de Bellas Artes, Paris y el arte contempora´neo, 1972. This exhibition later travelled to Montevideo; Santiago; Lima; Bogota; Quito; Caracas and Mexico.
Paris, Galerie Pascal Lansberg, Soulages, 2016, p. 26 (illustrated in colour, p. 27).
Note: ‘Black … has always remained the base of my palette. It is the most intense, most violent absence of colour, which gives an intense and violent presence to colours, even to white: just as a tree makes the sky seem more blue’ –Pierre Soulages
With its glistening black beams punctuated by glints of white and ochre, Peinture 162 x 130cm, 16 octobre 1966 is a bold large-scale painting by Pierre Soulages. Stretching over a metre and a half in height, it offers a scintillating vision of light and darkness, distinguished by its horizontal layering of tonalities. Executed in 1966, the work demonstrates the artist’s consummate mastery of his medium during a period of international acclaim. Hailed on both sides of the Atlantic, Soulages embarked upon a string of significant exhibitions during the 1960s: 1966 saw the opening of his retrospective at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, curated by James Johnson Sweeney, as well as a presentation of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, that summer. The present work made its debut the following year, and was subsequently included in his 1968 touring exhibition originating at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Seeking neither to conjure emotions nor to document the physical act of painting, Soulages is fascinated by the balancing of abstract contrasts, creating resonant textural force fields emptied of all external references. With sweeping, near-calligraphic strokes – created using a variety of tools – he paints and repaints the surface of his canvases, simultaneously adding and stripping away layers of pigment. Inspired less by his American Abstract Expressionist contemporaries than by the timeless majesty of prehistoric and Romanesque art, works such as the present rejoice in the raw, unadulterated power of their materials. ‘I cover and discover surfaces’, Soulages explains; ‘... I am telling nothing’ (P. Soulages, quoted in R. Vailland, ‘Comment travaille Pierre Soulages’, L’Oeil, No. 77, May 1961, p. 7).
Soulages’ paintings demonstrate a complex understanding of colour and form. The artist frequently recalls a childhood episode when he was spreading black ink upon white paper. A friend of his older sister asked what he was painting; she laughed when he replied ‘snow’. He later surmised that he had been trying to render the white paper more white, luminous and snow-like via its contrast with the black ink. ‘Black … has always remained the base of my palette’, he has explained. ‘It is the most intense, most violent absence of colour, which gives an intense and violent presence to colours, even to white: just as a tree makes the sky seem more blue’ (P. Soulages, quoted in J. Johnson Sweeney, Pierre Soulages, Neuchâtel, 1972, p. 13). Soulages works on the premise that our perception of colour is dependent on its shape, density and consistency: as such, it lies beyond the limits of language. ‘Gauguin already expressed it perfectly, when he said that a kilo of green is more green than a hundred grams of the same green’, he professed (P. Soulages, quoted in ‘Peindre la peinture’, Pierre Soulages: Outrenoir: Entretiens avec Françoise Jaunin, Lausanne, 2014, pp. 12-13). Thus, each stroke of the present work is conceived as a unique entity, cast in a play of endless variation with its neighbouring elements. By using the same descriptive format for his titles – painting, dimensions, date – Soulages allows the viewer’s perception of the artwork to be guided solely by the shifting dynamics of its abstract surface.
Though his paintings are superficially comparable with those of artists such as Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell, Soulages feels little affinity with his American contemporaries. When he first visited New York in 1957, Motherwell proposed that Abstract Expressionism could only truly be understood by Americans. Soulages retorted that ‘An art should be understood, loved and shared by anyone, anywhere in the world … I believe that in art, there are fundamentally only personal adventures that go beyond the individual, and even beyond his culture’ (P. Soulages, quoted in ‘Peindre la peinture’, Pierre Soulages: Outrenoir: Entretiens avec Françoise Jaunin, Lausanne, 2014, p. 31). Championing a universal appreciation of image-making, Soulages’ inspirations date largely from the earliest chapters of its history, including the 20,000-year-old cave paintings of Lascaux and the Neolithic stone carvings that populated his native region of Rodez in Southern France. He was also deeply influenced by a visit to Sainte-Foy de Conques, a famous Romanesque abbey church near his hometown. The experience of standing beneath the 11th-century building’s huge barrel vault, with its narrow shafts of light and cloak of warm darkness, would remain with him throughout his career. ‘My pictures are poetic objects capable of receiving what each person is ready to invest there according to the ensemble of forms and colours that is proposed to him’, he explains. ‘As for me, I don’t know what I am looking for when painting … it’s what I do that teaches me what I’m looking for’ (P. Soulages, quoted in Pierre Soulages: Outrenoir: Entretiens avec Françoise Jaunin, Lausanne 2014, p. 14).
Christie's. Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, London, 6 March 2019