Pierre Soulages


Pierre Soulages (b.1919, Rodez, France; d.2022, Nîmes, France) was best known for his ongoing outrenoir (‘beyond black’) series, first exhibited in 1979 at Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. These black monochrome paintings were the essence of his previous studies in black, painted in heavy, thick, calligraphic strokes on colour backgrounds. In outrenoir, black paint was variously gouged and scraped into tar-like surfaces, and light becomes the central motif of his painting. The transient and changeable qualities of light are reflected in the black paint, which adopt the modulating rhythm from the alternating matt, glossy surface. Critic Donald Kuspit once described the abstractions as “negatively sublime”—they inflect obdurate materiality with the mercurial aspects of light, achieving the effect of the immeasurable.


Soulages moved to Paris in 1938 to train as a drawing teacher. He briefly attended the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts before returning to Rodez. In 1940, he was drafted into the military. He was demobilised the following year but was later conscripted into forced labour and went underground for the remainder of the Occupation. During this time, he met the artist Sonia Delaunay and became interested in abstract art. In 1947, Soulages hired a space at Salon des Surindépendents, and exhibited his paintings publicly for the first time. In 1949, Soulages had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Lydia Conti, Paris, and was included in the group show Painted at Betty Parsons Gallery, New York. In the same year, Musée de Grenoble made the first museum acquisition of his work. His first American one-man show was held at Kootz Gallery, New York, in 1954 with whom he would exhibit over the next four years. Soulages travelled to the United States for the first time in 1957, where he met artists including Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. Soulages exhibited in London at the Gimpel Fils gallery in 1955.


He was awarded notable prizes and titles across his illustrious career, including the Legion of Honour (2015); Grand Prix National de Peinture (1986); Foreign Honorary Member for Art, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (1979); and Carnegie Prize from the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1964). Soulages has been honoured with numerous retrospectives, including: Lévy Gorvy Dayan, New York (2023); Opera Gallery, New York (2022); Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany (2020); Musée du Louvre, Paris (2019–2020); Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2009); Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (2001); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1996); China Fine Arts Palace, Beijing; Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan (1994); National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (1993); Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal; Musée du Québec (1968); Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris (1967); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1966); Museum Folkwang, Essen (1960). Musée Soulages opened in Rodez in 2014, housing five hundred paintings spanning Soulages’s career.


Soulages artworks are held in important institutions around the world, including Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Palais de l’Elysée, Paris; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; Musée National d’Art, Luxembourg; Tate, UK; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York; Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut; State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; among others.

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