Pierre Soulages, grand master of abstraction died on the night of October 25 to 26, 2022 at the age of 102.
Master of black painting
A major figure in abstraction, Pierre Soulages is recognized as one of the greatest painters of the French scene for his work which celebrates black in all its nuances. He is the undisputed master of black painting, of a radical abstraction in the service of matter and light. Pierre Soulages (1919–2022) is one of the last great figures of modern art. His work, exhibited throughout the world, is prolific: more than 1,550 paintings. His career was crowned by the opening of a museum in Rodez in 2014 following a donation of a set of his works.
A false identity to escape compulsory labor in Germany
Pierre Soulages was born in 1919 in Rodez, in Aveyron. His father, a coachbuilder who made carts, died when he was only 7 years old. He is raised by his mother and his older sister. As a child, he escaped by frequenting the craftsmen of his neighborhood. He will keep a taste for tools, using house painter’s brushes or making his own instruments. During a class trip, he visited the Romanesque abbey of Conques, which then influenced him in all his art. He will create the stained glass windows for the abbey years later. He paints regularly from 1934 and goes to Paris at the age of 18 to prepare for the competition for the School of Fine Arts. He is admitted, but finds the teaching mediocre. He decides to return to Rodez. The war period was eventful: he was mobilized in June 1940, demobilized at the beginning of 1941, he studied at the School of Fine Arts in Montpellier, then worked in a vineyard under a false identity to escape compulsory labor in Germany.
Adopting an expressionist gesture, Pierre Soulages uses dark colors which make him stand out among the exhibitors of the Parisian Salons. In the 1950s, he exhibited a lot, especially in New York, a hub of modern and abstract trends. In 1952, he was also present at the 26th Venice Biennale. The following year, he began to tackle large formats. Black is, for Soulages, an obsession and a quest. He radicalized the use of this color in his work at the end of the 1970s. The light, by reflecting on the surface, plays a predominant place in this work where the color is deep, and which he qualifies, from 1979, beyond black. At the end of November 2019, Pierre Soulages, already in the very closed circle of artists with the highest rating in the world, had broken his own sales record at Tajan. A canvas dating from 1960 and estimated between 4 and 6 million euros, finally soared to 9.6 million euros. His previous record was 9.2 million euros for a painting dating from 1959, and sold just a year earlier in New York.