After having given up an opportunity to study at the École Nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1937, Soulages returned to the city in 1946 to devote himself wholly to painting. His paintings, already abstract and dark, formed a striking contrast with other post-war schools in the abstraction-creation movement, in which colour and geometry played a key role.
This Peinture, a significant work in Soulages’s oeuvre, follows from his period using walnut stain on paper, with rich browns and blacks that were ‘both transparent and opaque, deeply intense in their darkness’, as he later described them, and compositions close to Chinese calligraphy. Around 1955, symbols tended to give way in his work to broad bands of rust and black hues, sometimes horizontal, sometimes vertical, with swathes of the white background showing through here and there. The latter half of the 1950s saw Soulages switch from paper to canvas and create an artistic language that opened the way to his ‘ultra-black’ paintings, confident in their materiality yet simplified to the extreme, with a very narrow palette and criss-crossing or juxtaposed brush strokes.
This generously sized work, painted just after this key transition period, plays with light not only by means of the transparency of the canvas but also in reflections cast by the painting itself. The light seems to well up from the depths of the painting, with its horizontal brushstrokes, while also emerging from the fleshiest black bands. The rust hues form an intermediate zone giving the whole a dramatic effect that is expressionist in inspiration, giving the work an underlying sense of conflict and tension. In the lower part, two horizontal bands block the ‘fall’ of the blades arranged across two levels.
Camille Morando (ed.), Soulages, Paris, Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2015.
Françoise Jaunin, Pierre Soulages. Outrenoir [interviews with Pierre Soulages], Lausanne, La Bibliothèque des Arts, 2012.
Pierre Encrevé, Soulages. Les Peintures. 1946-2006, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2007.