Sam Francis

“I painted to stay alive” said Sam Francis.

Confined to bed for three years following an airplane accident in 1943 during his service as a pilot in the  USA Air Force, painting became for Sam Francis a way of survival and the strength of his recovery.

« Paint only the background, the location of the infinite in painting. » Sam Francis

Using the all over technique, Francis’s canvases express the infinite, the space with neither beginning nor end, parts of sky as Francis explored them when he flew over the desert.

Only the mark is form, subject to chance, which emerges spontaneously. The figure dissolves, leaving “the space that spreads between things” to appear.

Between Clifford Still and Mark Rothko for Color Field, and of Jackson Pollock for Action Painting and drip painting, Sam Francis was also inspired by the innovative practices of Matisse in terms of colour, dimensionality of space and the purity of form and simplification of gesture.

“There is no development in my paintings. There is a rhythm. They are all intense from beginning to end.” Sam Francis

Francis’s work is prolific, exploring rhythms that are as varied as they are audacious : deeps, mosaics, blue balls, mandalas… an explosive oeuvre, borrowed from mysticism, spirituality and philosophy – a discipline he studied – nourished by his numerous journeys around the world, from Japan to Mexico via India and France.

“In him there is a cosmic and metaphysical feeling for a form of nature that is both welcoming and excessive on the scale of Northern California and the Pacific.” Yves Michaud

The Sam Francis Foundation based in California is preparing the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s works, among other projects. The Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946–1994 has already been published. The second volume, covering unique works on paper, is currently being prepared.

Exhibitions

Sam Francis: Rapid fluid indivisible vision, Bechtler Museum Of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, September 18, 2015 to March 7, 2016.
Sam Francis: Master Printmaker, Milwauke Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 24, 2015 to March 20, 2016.

Major public collections

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum
Basel, Kunstmuseum
London, Tate Gallery
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts
New-York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)
Paris, Musée national d’Art Moderne Centre Georges-Pompidou
Tokyo, Idemitsu Museum of Arts

Selected exhibitions

Paintings by Sam Francis, The Philips Gallery, Washington, 1958
Sam Francis, Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, 1959
Sam Francis, traveling exhibtion: Kunsthalle, Bern / Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1960
Sam Francis. A retrospective exhibition, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1967
Sam Francis, traveling exhibition: Kunsthalle, Basel / Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1968
Sam Francis, Centre national d’Art contemporain, Paris, 1968-69
Sam Francis. Paintings 1947-1972, traveling exhibition: AlbrightKnox Art Gallery, Buffalo / Corcoran Gallery, Washington / Whitney Museum of American Art, New York / Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas / Oakland Museum, Oakland, 1972-73
Paintings of Sam Francis in The Idemitsu Collection, Idemitsu Art Gallery, Tokyo, 1974
Sam Francis: The Fifties, The Philips Collection, Washington, 1980
Sam Francis, les années parisiennes 1950-1961, Galerie du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1995-96
Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, travelling exhibition: The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles / Menil Collection, Houston / Malmö Konsthall, Sweden / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid / Galleria nazionale d’Arte moderna, Rome, 1999–2001
Solo museum show, Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Osaka and Tokyo, 2000
Solo exhibition, Kunstmuseum, Bern, 2006

Sam Francis
Sam Francis

“The Adventure of Colour”
From 24th February to 22nd July 2018
Centre Pompidou-Metz – France

‘I dream of nothing but making my colours sing, with no attention to rules and restrictions.’ Henri Matisse

As early as 1810, Goethe’s Theory of Colours analysed the optical and physiological mechanisms underpinning the chromatic spectrum, and anticipated a freer approach to painting through the use of pure colour and monochrome. For Henri Matisse, a century later, colour was synonymous with liberation. His paper cut-outs are a joyous, rhythmic celebration of colour that inspired innovation in the visual arts throughout the second half of the twentieth century.

The Adventure of Colour tells the story of colour in modern and contemporary art through a selection of flagship works from the Centre Pompidou’s collection, exploring the recurrent urge to explore and experiment with colour, both as a powerful vector of emotions and sensations, and as an infinitely rich support for reflections on the materiality and spirituality of the medium of painting.

Punctuated by sensitive, physical experiences, the exhibition invites visitors to discover a growing awareness of the incarnation of colour in art, from François Morellet’s blue-tinted neons to the pure pigments of Yves Klein.

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Nymphéas. L’abstraction américaine et le dernier Monet

The Water Lilies. American Abstract Painting and the last Monet
Exhibition from 13 April to 20 August 2018
Musée de l’Orangerie – Paris

In 1955, Alfred Barr brought one of Monet’s large panels of Water Lilies (W1992) into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at a time when these great “decorations”, still in the studio in Giverny, were beginning to attract the attention of collectors and museums.
Monet was presented at that time as “a bridge between the naturalism of early Impressionism and the highly developed school of Abstract Art” in New York, with his Water Lilies seen in the context of Pollock’s paintings, such as Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950. The reception of these later Monet works resonated with American Abstract Expression then coming into the museum collections. At the same time, the idea of “Abstract Impressionism” was forged.
The exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie focuses on this precise moment – when the great decorations of the master of Giverny were rediscovered and the New York School of Abstract Art was recognised – with a selection of some of Monet’s later works and around twenty major paintings by American artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Philip Guston, Joan Mitchell, Mark Tobey, Sam Francis, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Ellsworth Kelly.
At the entrance to the Water Lilies, there is a tribute to Ellsworth Kelly, the American abstract artist who died in 2015 and whose work is still in dialogue with Monet’s. This display was designed by Eric de Chassey with the support of the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie.

General curator
Cécile Debray, chief curator, director of the Musée de l’Orangerie

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