Pierre Soulages

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Pierre Soulages

Pierre Soulages (French: [sulaʒ]; born 24 December 1919) is a French painter, engraver, and sculptor. In 2014 François Hollande described him as "the world's greatest living artist."[1]


Born in Rodez, Aveyron, in 1919, Soulages is also known as "the painter of black," owing to his interest in the colour "both as a colour and a non-colour. When light is reflected on black, it transforms and transmutes it. It opens a mental field all its own." He sees light as a work material; striations of the black surface of his paintings enable him to reflect light, allowing the black to come out of darkness and into brightness, thus becoming a luminous colour.

Before World War II, Soulages already had toured museums in Paris seeking his vocation and after wartime military service, he opened a studio in Paris, holding his first exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants in 1947. He also worked as a designer of stage sets.

In 1979, Pierre Soulages was made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

From 1987 to 1994, he produced 104 stained glass windows for the Romanesque Abbey church Sainte-Foy in Conques (Aveyron, France).

Soulages is the first living artist invited to exhibit at the state Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg and later with the Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow (2001).

A composition he created in 1959 sold for 1.200.000 euros at Sotheby's in 2006.

In 2007, the Musée Fabre of Montpellier devoted an entire room to Soulages, presenting his donation to the city. This donation includes twenty paintings dating from 1951 to 2006, among which are major works from the 1960s, two large plus-black works from the 1970s, and several large polyptychs.

A retrospective of his art was held at the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou from October 2009 to March 2010. In 2010, the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico presented a retrospective of Soulages' paintings that also included an interview-video with the painter (Spanish subtitles).

In 2014, Musée Soulages, opened in Rodez, France, Soulages' hometown. A museum dedicated to permanently displaying his works; plus temporary contemporary exhibitions, Soulages donated 500 works. [2] Made in two separate donations, the paintings represent all stages of his work, from post-war oil paintings to his phase of work called Outrenoir. Together they have formed his most complete display of work from the first 30 years of his career. [3]

Also in 2014 was Soulages' first American exhibition in 10 years, which was jointly hosted at Dominique Lévy and Galerie Perrotin, New York, in which he presented 14 of his recent works.

At the present (2016), Soulages' paintings are currently in over 100 museum collections. These collections include: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, New York, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Tate Gallery, London, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro.

Artistic Practice[edit]

Soulages has said, "My instrument is not black but the light reflected from the black." [4] Naming his own practice 'Outrénoir', (Beyond Black) the paintings he produces are known for their endless black depth, created by playing with the light reflected off of the texture of the paint. Knowing that he needed a new term to define the way that he was working, Soulages invented 'Outrénoir' to define his practice. Not having a translation into English, the closest meaning is 'beyond black.' In an interview in 2014 he explains the definition of the term, "Outrenoir doesn't exist in English; the closest is "beyond black." In French, you say "outre-Manche," "beyond the Channel," to mean England or "outre-Rhin," "beyond the Rhine," to mean Germany. In other words, "beyond black" is a different country from black." [5]

The infatuation Soulages has with black began long before his investigations with 'Outrénoir' at the age of 60. [6] Initially started by his interest with the prehistoric [5] and his want of retreating to something more pure, primal and deliberately stripped of any other connotations, he says of his fascination with the colour, “during thousands of years, men went underground, in the absolute black of grottoes, to paint with black.” [6] "I made these because I found that the light reflected by the black surface elicits certain emotions in me. These aren't monochromes. The fact that light can come from the colour which is supposedly the absence of light is already quite moving, and it is interesting to see how this happens." [5]

Applying the paint in thick layers, Soulages' painting technique includes using objects such as spoons, tiny rakes and bits of rubber to work away at the painting, often making scraping, digging or etching movements depending on whether he wants to evoke a smooth or rough surface. The texture that is then produced either absorbs or rejects light, breaking up the surface of the painting by disrupting the uniformity of the black. [7] He often uses bold cuts in vertical and horizontal lines, the crevasses and forms created by using angles and contours. In his recent work from 2013-14 Soulages began to more explicitly vary the pigment used in the paint, mixing matt and glossy types of black as well as hardened densities of black pigment. [8] Preferring to suspend the paintings like walls, he uses wires to hang them in the middle of the room, "I always liked paintings to be walls rather than windows. When we see a painting on a wall, it's a window, so I often put my paintings in the middle of the space to make a wall. A window looks outside, but a painting should do the opposite—it should look inside of us" [5]

Instead of having titles, Soulages paintings are named by their size and date of production.

Exhibition History[edit]

Year Selected Solo Exhibition Gallery/Museum
2016 Pierre Soulages: Le Noir Museum Folkwang, Essen
2014 Pierre Soulages: Les Outrenoir(s) Musée Soulages, Rodez
2014 Inauguration of Musée Soulages, Rodez Musée Soulages, Rodez
2014 Pierre Soulages Dominique Lévy Gallery with Galerie Perrotin, New York
2013 Soulages Xxle Siècle Villa Médicis, Rome; also seen in: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Lyon
2010 Pierre Soulages, New Paintings Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
2009 Pierre Soulages en Son Musée L'Expérience RCR Arquitectes, Cité de L'Architecture et Du Patrimoine, Paris
2009 Pierre Soulages. Einzelausstellung Zum 90. Geburtstag Galerie Boisserée, Köln
2009 Rétrospective Pierre Soulages Galerie Pacal Lansberg, Paris
2009 Soulages. Le Temps Du Papier Musée D'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg
2009 Soulages Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
2009 Pierre Soulages. Hommage Zum 90. Geburtstag Galerie Rieder, Munich
2006 Pierre Soulages, Painting the Light Sammlung Essl, Vienna
2005 Pierre Soulages: Outrenoir, Recent Paintings Robert Miller Gallery, New York
2003 Soulages. L'Œurve Imprimé Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris
2001 Pierre Soulages: Lumière Du Noir Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; also seen in: Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
2000 Soulages: 82 Peintures Les Abattoirs, Toulouse
1999 Soulages, Œuvres Récentes, 1994-99 Musée Fabre, Montpellier
1997 Pierre Soulages: Rétrospective Centro de Exposiciones y Congresos, Saragosse
1996 Pierre Soulages: Noir-Lumière Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris; also seen in: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Monréal; Museu de Arte, Sao-Paulo
1993 Pierre Soulages: une rétrospective National museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul; also seen in: Fine Ats Museum, Beijing; Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei
1992 Pierre Soulages: Polyptyques 1979-1991 Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou, Cajarc
1991 Pierre Soulages Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna
1989 Pierre Soulages Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
1986 Peintures 1984-1986 FIAC, Paris; also seen in: Galerie de France, Paris
1982 Pierre Soulages: Œuvres Sur Papier Galerie Ponce, Mexico City; also seen in: Oberhessisches Museum, Glessen; Galerie Ostertag, Francfort
1979 Pierre Soulages: Peintures Récentes Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
1975 Pierre Soulages: Rétrospective Museu de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; also seen in: Musée Fabre, Montpellier; Salas del Patrimonio Artistico y Cultural, Madrid; Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbonne
1973 Pierre Soulages: Peintures 1964-1972 Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi; also seen in Rädhus Gentofte, Copenhagen; nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, Aalborg; S.Henie-N.Onstad Artsenter, Hovikodden
1968 Soulages Musée D'Art Contemporain, Montréal, also seen in: Musée Du Québec, Québec
1968 Pierre Soulages: Paintings Since 1963 Knoedler Gallery, New York; also seen in: Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
1967 Pierre Soulages: Rétrospective Musée National D'Art Moderne, Paris
1966 Pierre Soulages Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1963 Pierre Soulages: Rétrospective NY Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
1962 Pierre Soulages: Rétrospective Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston
1960 Pierre Soulages: Rétrospective Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover; also seen in: Folkwang Museum, Essen; Gemeente Museum, The Hague; Kunsthaus, Zurich
1954 Pierre Soulages Kootz Gallery, New York

Selected Publications/Monographs[edit]

Year Publication Title/Publisher/Gallery Editor/Contributors
2014 Soulages in America. (Dominique Lévy Gallery, New York) Texts by Philippe Ungar, Harry Cooper, Sean Sweeney, Dominique Lévy
2011 Soulages l'oeuvre imprimé. (Bibliothèque Nationale de France/ Musée Soulages, Paris) Edited by Pierre Encrevé, Marie-Cécile Miessner
2011 Pierre Soulages. (Martin-Gropius Bau, Berlin/Hirmer, Munich) Essays by Hans Belting, Yve-Alain Bois, Pierre Encrevé, Alfred Pacquement, Serge Guilbaut, Bernard de Montferrand, Alain Seban, Joachim Sartorius, Gereon Sievernich, Hans-Ulrich Obrist; edited by Pierre Encrevé, Alfred Paquement
2010 Verre cartons des vitraux de Conques. (Musée Fabre, Montpellier) Essays by Pierre Soulages, Jean-Dominique Fleury, Benoît Decron
2010 Pierre Soulages. (Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London) Essays by John Yau and Mel Gooding
2009 Soulages, le temps du papier. (Cercle d'Art, Paris/ Musée d’Art Moderne, Contemporain de Strasbourg (MAMCS), Strasbourg) Text by Michel Ragon, Estelle Pietrzyk, Gilbert Dupuis
2009 SOULAGES. (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) Essays by Alain Seban, Alfred Pacquement, Pierre Encrevé, Serge Guilbaut, Yve-Alain Bois, Guitermie Maldonado, Annie Claustres, Harry Cooper, Hans Belting, Isabelle Ewig, Éric de Chassey, Hans Ulrich Obrist; Edited by Pierre Encrevé, Alfred Pacquement
2007 Pierre Soulages au Musée Fabre, Parcours d'un accrochage. (Interprint, Montpellier) Photos by Vincent Cunillère; Essays by Georges Frêche, Michel Hilaire, Emmanuel Nebout, Laurence Javal, Olivier Brochet, Yves Larbiou, Dan McEnroe, Thierry Dieudonnat, Pierre Susini, Claude Cougnenc, Pierre Encrevé
2006 Pierre Soulages. Painting the light. (Sammlung Essl, Klosterneuburg-Vienna) Essays by Karlheinz Essl, Andrea Rygg Karberg
2001 Soulages - Lumière du noir. (Paris-Musées, Paris) Essays by Mikhaïl Piotrovsky, Suzanne Pagé, Albert Kosténévitch, Pierre Encrevé, JeanClaude Marcadé; Preface by Vladimir Yakovlev, Bertrand Delanoë, maire de Paris
1999 Pierre Soulages, Célébration de la lumière. (Skira-Le Seuil, Paris/Musée des Beaux-Arts, Berne) Essays by Sandor Kuthy, Pierre Soulages
1998 Soulages, L'oeuvre complet, Peintures III, 1979-1997. (Seuil, Paris) Text by Pierre Encrevé
1997 Pierre Soulages, Malerei als farbe und licht, Rétrospective 1946-1997. (Deichtorhallen, Hamburg) Essays by Zdenek Felix, Robert Fleck, Charles Juliet
1996 Soulages, Noir lumière. (Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris) Essays by Suzanne Pagé, Jean-Louis Andral, Pierre Encrevé, Robert Fleck, Donald Kuspit, William Rubin
1996 Soulages. (Flammarion, Paris: pp. 87-149) Interview with the artist by Bernard Ceysson
1994 Pierre Soulages: une retrospective (Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei/National Museum of China, Beijing) Essays by Huang Kuang-nan, Alfred Pacquement, Jean-Paul Réau, François Marcel Plaisant
1994 Les vitraux de Soulages (Seuil, Paris) Georges Duby, Christian Heck
1993 Pierre Soulages: une retrospective (Musée National d'Art Contemporain, Séoul) Essays by Young-Bang Lim, Alfred Pacquement, Bernard Prague
1992 Pierre Soulages, polyptyques 1979-1991 (Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou, Cajarc) Essays by Pierre Daix, Pierre Encrevé, Claire Stoullig
1991 Soulages, peintures récentes (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna) Essays by Lorand Hegyi, Alfred Pacquement
1990 Polyptyques (Le Louvre, Paris) Text by Isabelle Monod-Fontaine
1989 Soulages: 40 jahre malerei (German ed. Museum Fridericianum, Kassel/Cantz Verlag, Stuttgart) Text by Veit Loers, Bernard Ceysson
1989 Soulages: 40 ans de peinture (French ed. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes) Essays by Henry-Claude Cousseau, Veit Loers
1989 Soulages: 40 anos de pintura (Spanish ed. Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Valencia) Essays by Bernard Ceysson, Veit Loers
1987 Nous avons visité le Musée d'Orsay avec Pierre Soulages (L'Evénement du Jeudi, Paris: pp. 82-84) Interview with the artist by Jean-Louis Pradel
1987 Pierre Soulages (Musée Saint-Pierre Art Contemporain, Lyon/Hans Thoma-Gesellschaft, Reutlingen) Essays by Georges Duby, Pierre Encrevé, Henri Meschonnic, Werner Meyer, Thierry Raspail, Clément Rosset
1984 Soulages (Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo) Essays by Taka Ashido Okada, d'Alfred Pacquement
1980 Soulages, peintures récentes (Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris/Musée du Parc de la Boverie, Liège) Essays by Pontus Hulten, Alfred Pacquement
1976 Soulages (Musée d'Art et d'Industrie, Saint-Etienne: p. 5-32, 42) Interview with the artist by Bernard Ceysson
1975 L'aventure de l'art moderne (1): Pierre Soulages (Galerie Jardin des Arts, Paris: September, p. 150) Interview with the artist by André Parinaud
1974 Soulages, peintures, gravures (1st ed. Musée Dynamique, Dakar/Fundaçào Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon) Text by Léopold Sédar Senghor

Honours and awards[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hugh Schofield (24 June 2014). "The president and the 'greatest living artist' in the world". BBC News. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Artnet, "Pierre Soulages" Retrieved June 2016
  3. ^ [1] The Museum, Musée Soulages, Retrieved June 2016
  4. ^ Musée Soulages, Rodez [2] Works, A Closer Look, Painting, 324 X 362 cm, 1986 (Polyptyque I) Retrieved July 2016
  5. ^ a b c d [3] Interview Magazine, Pierre Soulages, Zoe Stillpass, 5th August 2014, Retrieved July 2016
  6. ^ a b [4] Artnet, Pierre Soulages, Happy to Stay in the Dark, Ben Davis, June 19th 2014, Retrieved July 2016
  7. ^ [5] The Telegraph (online) Black is the new black for Pierre Soulages, France's best known living artist, Claire Rosemberg, 14th October 2009, Retrieved July 2016
  8. ^ [6] Hyperallergic (online), Pierre Soulages: Painter of Black and Light, Robert C. Morgan, 14th May 2014, Retrieved July 2016
  9. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 1712. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 

External links[edit]