serge poliakoff - portrait

Serge Poliakoff

(1900-1969)

Serge Poliakoff was a Russian-born French painter. One of the major figures of the post-war abstract movement, Poliakoff is known for his approach to abstraction, structured by the juxtaposition of colour planes.

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Serge Poliakoff’s early life in Russia

Serge Poliakoff was born on 21 January 1900 in Moscow, the thirteenth of fourteen children. His father, Georges Nicolaévitch Poliakoff, supplied the Russian army with horses and owned a racing stable. Serge Poliakoff began attending courses in drawing in Moscow in 1914. He painted his first landscapes in Nalchik, where the leading Russian landscape painter Isaac Levitan had worked.

Poliakoff’s pious mother regularly took her son to church, where he discovered religious icons that would have a profound influence on his work. Showing little interest in his studies at high school, Poliakoff took refuge in reading and acquired a very good knowledge of Russian literature and the Western classics. Through his brother Anatoly, who studied singing, Poliakoff developed a passion for opera and music. He learned to play the guitar at the age of 12 years old.

Serge Poliakoff’s exile and move to Paris

The life of the Poliakoff family was violently shaken by the Russian Revolution in 1917. The family fled the following year, travelling through Russia and the Caucasus. In 1919, Poliakoff took refuge in Constantinople with his aunt, the singer Nastia Poliakoff. Poliakoff accompanied her on the guitar, which would become his primary source of income for three decades to come. Poliakoff travelled all over Europe, passing through Sofia, Belgrade, Vienna and Berlin before reaching Paris, where he settled in 1923.

In 1929, Poliakoff enrolled at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse to study painting. The painter exhibited his works for the first time in 1931, at a group exhibition at the Galerie Drouant in Paris. During that period, he painted nudes, portraits and landscapes in an academic style. Poliakoff worked at the Académie Frochot in Montmartre in 1933, where he studied painting under Othon Friez, Marcel Cosson and Ivan Cerf. In the evenings, he continued to play the guitar to earn a living.

The painter Serge Poliakoff in London

In 1935, Poliakoff moved to London, where he studied at the Slade School of Art for two years. It was there that he met Marcelle Perreur-Lloyd, whom he married the same year. The couple had a son, Alexis, in 1942. Still living off his earnings from playing the guitar, Poliakoff took part in several films as a musician. During his time in London, Poliakoff visited its museums, marvelling at the works of the Italian Primitives—Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini— as well as members of the Flemish school and the impressionist movement. He also studied the works of Velasquez, Cézanne, Gauguin and Seurat, as well as modern artists, among whom he particularly appreciated Paul Klee—for his sense of composition—and Juan Gris. “Juan Gris was already abstract,” Poliakoff said, “unlike Picasso and Braque.” The Egyptian sarcophagi that Poliakoff discovered at the British Museum were a major aesthetic revelation for the artist at the time. He was fascinated by their proportions, colours and materials.

Serge Poliakoff’s return to Paris and early success

In 1937, Serge Poliakoff and his wife returned to Paris. The artist’s first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Zak in the same year. It was also in Paris that Poliakoff met Kandinsky, who had moved there after the Bauhaus was closed down. The meeting between the two artists encouraged Poliakoff to explore abstraction in his work. In 1936, Poliakoff’s work was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, where he was represented every year until 1946. It was through the Salon that he met Sonia and Robert Delaunay, with whom he became very close friends. Robert Delaunay’s lessons on simultaneous contrast would have a decisive influence on Poliakoff’s work.

Poliakoff exhibited his first abstract painting at the Galerie Le Niveau in Paris. A fan of the piece, Kandinsky declared: ”I’ll be staking my money on Poliakoff in the future of painting.” Poliakoff also met the artist Otto Freundlich around this time. Freundlich had a profound impact on the painter. Poliakoff’s first exhibition of entirely abstract works was presented at the Galerie L’Esquisse in 1945.

In 1946, at the suggestion of the Dutch artist César Domela, Poliakoff took part in two exhibitions organised at the Centre de Recherches on Rue Cujas in Paris. The events, which brought together the avant-garde of abstract painting, saw Poliakoff exhibited alongside Ernest Engel-Pak, Marie Raymond, Vassily Kandinsky, Auguste Herbin, César Domela, Jean Dewasne, Jean Deyrolle, Hans Hartung and Gérard Schneider. Poliakoff’s works were exhibited at Denise René’s gallery alongside those of Jacques Duthoo, Alfred Reth, Marie Raymond and Marcel Pouget in the same year, and he also took part in the Salon de Mai. Poliakoff still continued his activities as a musician, playing the guitar at a Russian cabaret.

In 1947, Serge Poliakoff received the Kandinsky Prize, which was created by Nina Kandinsky to encourage the abstract painting movement. Poliakoff’s first solo exhibition to be held abroad took place in 1948 at the Tokanten Gallery in Copenhagen. A work by Poliakoff was acquired by a museum for the first time in the same year, when the Musée de Grenoble bought a painting from him.

The painter Serge Poliakoff’s first exhibitions abroad

In 1950, Poliakoff saw his works exhibited at the Galerie Denise René and the Galerie de Beaune in Paris. He took part in the Salon de Mai in the same year. Poliakoff’s work was presented at the Galerie Dina Vierny the following year, as well as in various group exhibitions in Paris and abroad, notably in England and Japan.

In 1952, Poliakoff finally stopped working as a musician thanks to a contract with the Galerie Bing, which enabled him to live off his work as an artist. It was in the same year that the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris presented the exhibition L’Art du XXe Siècle. Viewing the show, Poliakoff discovered two paintings by Malevitch from the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, including White on White. The discovery was an aesthetic revelation for Poliakoff, who said: “It showed me once again the capital role played by the vibration of matter. Even if there is no colour, a painting in which the matter vibrates remains alive.”

In 1953, Poliakoff’s first solo exhibitions were presented in Belgium: at the APIAW (Association pour le progrès intellectuel et artistique en Wallonie) in Liège, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and at the Musée de Verviers. His first solo exhibition in the United States took place in the same year, at the Circle & Square Gallery in New York. This was followed by his second solo exhibition in the United States at the Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1955.

Poliakoff was awarded the Lissone Prize in 1956. In 1958, the painter designed the set for the ballet Contrepoint, which was performed with choreography by Roland Petit to the music of Marius Constant. Projections of two of Poliakoff’s paintings were used as part of the set of Jean Tardieu-Jacques Poliéri’s show at the Théâtre de l’Alliance Française in Paris the following year.

Poliakoff took part in major international cultural events, including Documenta II and III, the International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and 50 Ans D’art Moderne in Brussels in 1958.

In 1959, Poliakoff saw one of Malevich’s monumental works for the first time at an exhibition organised by Franz Meyer at the Kunsthalle in Bern. The piece had a profound effect on the painter.

The painter Serge Poliakoff was naturalised as a French citizen in 1962. He was featured at the Venice Biennale in the same year, where a room was dedicated to his work. In 1965, Poliakoff was awarded the International Prize at the Tokyo Biennale. The following year, he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Biennale de Menton and a major retrospective of his work was presented at the Kunstmuseum in St. Gallen, Switzerland. In 1968, a Serge Poliakoff retrospective was presented at the Maison de la Culture in Caen, closely followed by a second retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1970.

In September 1969, Serge Poliakoff travelled to Venice for his exhibition at the Galleria del Naviglio. During his stay, he visited the Chapel of the Scrovegni in Padua and discovered the frescoes by Giotto, which influenced his last works. Serge Poliakoff died on 12 October 1969 in Paris, France.

© Diane de Polignac Gallery
Translation: Lucy Johnston

serge poliakoff - photographie dans son atelier

Selected collections

Selected collections

Aalborg, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum

Basel, Kunstmuseum

Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Bern, Kunstmuseum

Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Buenos Aires, Museo de Arte Moderno

Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo

Chicago, IL, The Art Institute of Chicago

Colmar, Musée Unterlinden

Cologne, Museum Ludwig

Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst

Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Dortmund, Museum am Ostwall

Essen, Museum Folkwang

Freiburg, Museum für Kunst und Geschichte

Fukuoka, Fukuoka Art Museum

Geneva, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire

Grenoble, Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture

Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle

Hanover, Sprengel Museum

Helsinki, Ateneum

Houston, TX, Museum of Fine Arts

Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts

Lisbon, Museu Colecçao Berardo

London, Tate Gallery

Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Madrid, Fondation Thyssen-Bornemisza

Montpellier, Musée Fabre

Montreal, Musée d’Art Contemporain

Nantes, Musée d’Arts

New York, NY, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

New York, NY, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris

Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou

Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Rio de Janeiro, Museu de Arte Moderna

Saint-Étienne, Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain

San Francisco, CA, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Sao Paulo, Museu de Arte Contemporanea

Seoul, Ho-am Art Museum

Strasbourg, Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain

Stockholm, Moderna Museet

Tahiti, Paul Gauguin Museum

Takanawa, Museum of Modern Art

Toulouse, Les Abattoirs

Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst

Villeneuve-d’Ascq, LaM

Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection

Zurich, Kunsthaus

Selected exhibitions

Selected exhibitions

Group exhibition, Galerie Drouant, Paris, 1931

Group exhibition, Galerie Le Niveau, Paris, 1938

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Zak, Paris, 1938

Salon des Indépendants, Paris, 1939, Poliakoff was featured at the Salon until 1946

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie L’Esquisse, Paris, 1945

Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Paris, 1945

Salon de Mai, Paris, 1946, 1950

Group exhibition, Centre de Recherches on Rue Cujas, Paris, 1947

Galerie Denise René, Paris, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951

Serge Poliakoff, Tokanten Gallery, Copenhagen, 1948

Serge Poliakoff, Haaken Gallery, Oslo, 1949, 1995

Serge Poliakoff – Gouaches, Galerie Rue de Beaune, Paris, 1950

Galerie Dina Vierny, Paris, 1951, 1986

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Ex-Libris, Brussels, 1952

Circle & Square Galleries, New York, 1952

La Nouvelle École de Paris, Galerie de Babylone, Paris, 1952

Kunsthaus, Zurich, 1952

Galerie La Hune, 1952, 1972

Salon d’Octobre, Paris, 1952

Gilioli – Poliakoff, APIAW (Association pour le progrès intellectuel et artistique en Wallonie), Liège, 1953

Gilioli – Poliakoff, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1953

Musée de Verviers, Verviers (Belgium), 1953

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Marcel Évrard, Lille, 1953

Serge Poliakoff, Circle & Square Gallery, New York, 1953

L’École de Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 1954–1958

Serge Poliakoff, Martinet Gallery, Amsterdam, 1954

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie der Spiegel, Cologne, 1954, 1964

Tendances actuelles de l’École de Paris, Kunsthalle, Bern, 1954

Éloge du petit format, Galerie La Roue, Paris, 1955

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Bing, Paris, 1954, 1956

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Henri Dupont, Lille, 1955

Serge Poliakoff, Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1955

Trente peintres de la Nouvelle École de Paris, Galerie Craven, Paris, 1956

L’aventure de l’art abstrait, Galerie Arnaud, Paris

Serge Poliakoff, Galleria del Naviglio, Milan, 1957, 1958, 1966

Serge Poliakoff, Moderne Galerie Otto Stangl, Munich, 1957

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Creuzevault, Paris, 1957

Serge Poliakoff – Gouaches, Galerie Berggruen, Paris, 1957

50 années de peinture abstraite, Galerie Creuze-Balzac, Paris, 1957

Jacobsen – Poliakoff, Kunsthalle, Basel, 1958

Serge Poliakoff, Kunstverein, Hamburg, 1958

Hanover Gallery, London, 1958, 1961

Jacobsen – Poliakoff, Stateus Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, 1958

Serge Poliakoff, Galleria del Cavallino, Venice, 1958

Serge Poliakoff, Galleria d’Arte Selecta, Rome, 1958

Serge Poliakoff, Kunstverein für die Rheinland, Düsseldorf, 1958

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Berggruen, Paris, 1959

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Knoedler, Paris, 1959

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Cahiers d’Art, Paris, 1959

Serge Poliakoff Gouaches, Paul Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles, 1959

Loan exhibition of Paintings by Serge Poliakoff, The Phillips Collection, Washington, 1959

Documenta II, Kassel, 1959

Serge Poliakoff, Svenska-Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm, 1960, 1962

Serge Poliakoff, Marya Gallery, Copenhagen, 1960

Serge Poliakoff rétrospective 1937-1960, Kunsthalle, Bern, 1960

Serge Poliakoff, Galleria Minima, Milan, 1960

Serge Poliakoff, Galleria l’Obelisco, Rome, 1960

Serge Poliakoff, Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, 1961

Galerie Im Erker, Saint-Gallen, 1962, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996

XXXI Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, French Pavilion, Venice, 1962

Galerie Melissa, Lausanne, 1962, 1972

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Stangl, Munich, 1962, 1966

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Bonnier, Lausanne, 1962

Serge Poliakoff, Haaken Gallery, Oslo, 1962

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Artek, Helsinki, 1963, 1971

Serge Poliakoff – A retrospective, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1963

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Le Divan, Paris, 1963

Gouaches de Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Renée Ziegler, Zurich, 1963

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Cavalero, Cannes, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1974

Serge Poliakoff, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, 1963

Serge Poliakoff, Kunstverein, Bremen, 1963

Serge Poliakoff, Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, 1963

Serge Poliakoff, Overbeck Gesellschaft, Lübeck, 1963

Documenta III, Kassel, 1963

Serge Poliakoff, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, 1964

Serge Poliakoff, Städtisches Museum, Trier, 1964

Serge Poliakoff, Haus der Städtischen-Kunstsammlungen, Bonn, 1964

Serge Poliakoff, Musée Rath, Geneva, 1964

Serge Poliakoff, Scott Fauré Gallery, La Jolla (California), 1964

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie d’Eendt, Amsterdam, 1964

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie de France, Paris, 1964, 1973, 1977

Serge Poliakoff, Lefebre Gallery, New York, 1964, 1968, 1971, 1981

Serge Poliakoff, Moos Gallery, Toronto, 1965

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Dina Vierny, Paris, 1965

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Räber, Lucerne, 1965

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Hébert, Grenoble, 1965

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Flaviana, Locarno, 1965

Serge Poliakoff, La Hune, Paris, 1965, 1973

International Prize at the Tokyo Biennale, Tokyo, 1965

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie d’Art Moderne, Basel, 1966

Gouaches, etchings and lithographs by Serge Poliakoff, Redfern Gallery, London, 1966

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie at Home, Toulouse, 1966

Serge Poliakoff, Kunstmuseum, St. Gallen, 1966

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Argos, Nantes, 1966

Grand Prix at the Biennale de Menton, Menton, 1966

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Carrefour, Brussels, 1967

Serge Poliakoff, Théâtre et Maison de la Culture, Caen, 1968

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie XXe Siècle, Paris, 1968

Serge Poliakoff, Naviglio Venezia, Venice, 1969

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Régence, Brussels, 1969

Serge Poliakoff, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1970

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Dina Vierny, Paris, 1970

Serge Poliakoff, Maison de la Culture André Malraux, Reims, 1971

Serge Poliakoff, Musée Unterlinden, Colmar, 1971

Hommage à Poliakoff, Galerie Calatchi, Paris, 1971

Serge Poliakoff, Tel Aviv Museum, Tel Aviv, 1971

Serge Poliakoff, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, 1972

Serge Poliakoff, Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, 1972

Serge Poliakoff, Tampere Art Museum, Tampere, 1972

Serge Poliakoff, Galleria Dinastia, Lisbon, 1972

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Govaerts, Brussels, 1972

Serge Poliakoff, Jiyugaoka Gallery, Tokyo, 1974

Serge Poliakoff, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 1974

Serge Poliakoff, Musée des Beaux-Arts, La-Chaux-de-Fonds, 1975

Poliakoff, Galerie Melki, Paris, 1975, 1991

Serge Poliakoff, Kasseler Kunstverein, Kassel, 1975

Rétrospective Poliakoff, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi, 1975

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Ulysses, Vienna, 1977

Serge Poliakoff, Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, Wolfgang Gurlitt-Museum, Linz, 1977

Serge Poliakoff, Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo & Osaka, 1978

Serge Poliakoff, Musée Municipal, Vallauris, 1978

Serge Poliakoff, Maison des Arts et Loisirs, Sochaux, 1979

Serge Poliakoff, Musée Ingres, Montauban, 1980

Serge Poliakoff, Art Point Gallery, Tokyo, 1982

Serge Poliakoff, Gallery Gio Sanjyo, Kyoto, 1985

Serge Poliakoff, Kajikawa Bijutsu Shiryo, Kyoto, 1985

Serge Poliakoff, Galerie Takamiya, Osaka, 1985

Serge Poliakoff, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, 1987

Serge Poliakoff, The Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1988

Serge Poliakoff, Fondation Dina Vierny, Musée Maillol, Paris, 1995, 2004, 2009

Serge Poliakoff, Museum Würth, Künzelsau, 1997

Serge Poliakoff, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna, 1998

Serge Poliakoff, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Carcassonne, 2001

Serge Poliakoff, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dunkirk, 2002

Poliakoff, Musée de Tessé et Collégiale Saint-Pierre-la-Cour, Le Mans, 2003

Poliakoff, rétrospective des estampes, Musée des Beaux-Arts Denys-Puech, Rodez, 2003

Serge Poliakoff, Fundacion Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa, Bilbao, 2003

Serge Poliakoff, de Moscou à Paris, Espace Hennessy, Cognac, 2006

L’Envolée lyrique, Paris 1945-1956, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2006

Serge Poliakoff, Musée de Pont-Aven, Pont-Aven, 2010

Les Sujets de l’abstraction, Peinture non-figurative de la Seconde École de Paris (1946-1962), Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Musée Rath, Geneva & Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 2011

Poliakoff, le rêve des formes, retrospective exhibition, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, 2013

Selected bibliography

Selected bibliography

Michel Ragon, Serge Poliakoff, Paris, Le Musée de Poche, 1956

Jean Cassou, Serge Poliakoff, Amriswil (Switzerland), Bodensee-Verlag, 1963

Alexis Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff, les estampes, Paris, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1974

Giuseppe Marchiori, Serge Poliakoff, Paris, Les Presses de la Connaissance, 1976

Gérard Durozoi, Poliakoff. L’Autre Musée, Paris, La Différence, 1984

Lydia Harambourg, Serge Poliakoff, dans L’École de Paris 1945-1965, Dictionnaire des peintres, Neuchâtel, Ides et Calendes, 1993

Françoise Brütsch, Serge Poliakoff, œuvres 1923-1969, Neuchâtel, Ides et Calendes, 1993

Alexis Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff, Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. I, 1922–1954, Paris, Acatos Moudon, 2005

Alexis Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff, Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. II, 1955–1958, Paris/Munich, Serge Poliakoff Archives/Édition Galerie Française, 2010

Alexis Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff, Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. III, 1959–1962, Paris/Munich, Serge Poliakoff Archives/Édition Galerie Française, 2011

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