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Pierre Soulages

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Pierre Soulages
Soulages in 2019
Pierre Jean Louis Germain Soulages

(1919-12-24)24 December 1919
Rodez, France
Died25 October 2022(2022-10-25) (aged 102)
Nîmes, France
Colette Llaurens
(m. 1942)

Pierre Jean Louis Germain Soulages (French: [sulaʒ]; 24 December 1919 – 25 October 2022) was a French painter, printmaker, and sculptor. In 2014, President François Hollande of France described him as "the world's greatest living artist."[1] His works are held by leading museums of the world, and there is a museum dedicated to his art in his hometown of Rodez.

Soulages is 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 saw 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.[2][3]

Soulages produced 104 stained-glass windows for the Romanesque architecture of the Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy in Conques from 1987 to 1994. He received international awards, and the Louvre in Paris held a retrospective of his works on the occasion of his centenary.

Early life and family[edit]

Soulages was born in Rodez, Aveyron, on 24 December 1919.[4][5] His father, Amans, was a carriage maker who ran a hunting and fishing shop. He died when Pierre was age five.[4] Pierre was raised by his older sister Antoinette and their mother, Aglaé Zoé Julie (Corp) Soulages.[6] As a child, he was interested in the area's menhirs,[4] in Celtic carvings in the local museum, and also in the Romanesque architecture of the Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy in Conques. He dressed in all black, and his mother disliked it.[7]

Early career[edit]

Inspired by the art of Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso, Soulages began studies at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris, but soon dropped out because he was disappointed by the traditional style.[8]

After wartime military service, he studied further at the Fine Arts School of Montpellier.[7] He opened a studio in Courbevoie, Paris, painting in "complete abstraction", with black as the dominant colour, and experimenting with walnut oil.[7] His first exhibition was at the Salon des Indépendants in 1947.[3][8][9] He also worked as a designer of stage sets. He exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1954,[3] and in New York City the same year,[10] gaining recognition in the United States. Betty Parsons Gallery showed his work in New York in 1949.[6] In 1950, Leo Castelli organized an exhibition at Sidney Janis.[6] In 1954 Soulages began showing at Samuel Kootz.[6] His works were included in the two major exhibitions of European artists, Younger European Painters at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum (1953) and The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors at the Museum of Modern Art (1955) in New York.[10] In 1979, Soulages was made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[11]

Later career[edit]

From 1987 to 1994, he produced 104 stained-glass windows for the Abbey of Sainte-Foy in Conques,[12] prepared by around 700 tests at a small factory near Münster, Germany.[7] A gallerist reflected the windows in the context of his paintings:

He studied the way that light wouldn't cross through the stained glass, but would be fractionally fragmented, exploded through the stained glass. So when you are in Conques and you see the light coming through these stained-glass panels, how the light hits the glass and then comes in and the harmonious explosion inside the church, it's beyond religious. And that's what he was trying to achieve with his black paintings, to capture whatever you give them, but they're reflected in a completely independent way. It puts you in front of the void, in front of fullness and emptiness, in front of strength and vulnerability. It has this tension, and that is what it was to know Soulages.[7]

Soulages was the first living artist to have been invited to exhibit at the state Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg and later with the Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow (2001).[13]

In 2007, the Musée Fabre of Montpellier devoted an entire room to Soulages, presenting a donation he made to the city. It included twenty paintings dating from 1951 to 2006, among which were major works from the 1960s, two large "plus-black" works from the 1970s, and several large polyptychs. A retrospective was held at the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou from October 2009 to March 2010. In 2010, the Museum of Mexico City presented a retrospective of paintings that also included an interview-video with the artist.[11]

In 2014, the Musée Soulages opened in Soulages' hometown of Rodez, as a place to permanently display his works and to house temporary contemporary exhibitions.[1] Soulages and his wife donated 900 works.[2][14] The paintings represent all stages of his work, from post-war oils to a phase of work he calls Outrenoir. It was the most complete display of work from his first 30 years.[15] Some space in the museum is always reserved for exhibitions of other contemporary artists, as Soulages had wanted from the beginning.[9]

In 2014, Soulages presented fourteen recent works in his first American exhibition in 10 years, at Dominique Lévy and Galerie Perrotin, New York. In September 2019, the Lévy Gorvy Gallery in New York held a major exhibition[16] ahead of the retrospective at the Louvre Museum in December celebrating his 100th birthday.[17]

On 17 November 2021, his Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 4 août 1961, was auctioned for $20.2M, an auction record for the artist.[7]

Artistic practice[edit]

17 December 1966 (1966), Honolulu Museum of Art

Soulages said, "My instrument is not black but the light reflected from the black."[18] Naming his own practice Outrenoir (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 worked, Soulages invented 'Outrenoir' to define his practice. Not having a translation into English, the closest meaning is 'beyond black'; in a 2014 interview he explained 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."[19]

The infatuation Soulages had with black began long before his investigations with 'Outrenoir' at the age of 60.[20] Initially inspired by his interest in the prehistoric [19] 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."[20] "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."[19]

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.[21][22] He often used bold cuts in vertical and horizontal lines, the crevasses and forms created by using angles and contours. In his recent work from 2013 to 2014, Soulages began to explicitly vary the pigment used in the paint, mixing matte and glossy types of black as well as hardened densities of black pigment.[23] 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".[19]

Instead of having titles, Soulages paintings are uniformly named as "Peinture" (transl.: Painting), followed by size and date of production.[7] 17 December 1966 from 1966, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art demonstrates the artist's boldly brushed black on white canvases.[24] His works had to be hung without frames in exhibitions.[7]

Personal life[edit]

While at the Fine Arts School of Montpellier,[7] Soulages met Colette Llaurens[4] (born 1920).[25] They were married on 24 October[25] 1942.[3] The couple had no children. In 2017, they permanently moved to their summer retreat in Sète.[26]

Soulages died in Nîmes[7] on 25 October 2022, less than two months before his 103rd birthday, and was survived by his wife had marked their 80th wedding anniversary, the day before his death.[27][3][4][5]


Collections of works by Soulages are held by many museums, including:[11]

Publications and monographs[edit]

Exhibitions of art by Soulages were accompanied by publications including:[11]

Year Title (publisher or gallery) Editors and 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) Text by Michel Ragon, Estelle Pietrzyk, Gilbert Dupuis
2009 Soulages (Centre 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, mayor of 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, Retrospektive 1946–1997. (Deichtorhallen, Hamburg) Essays by Zdenek Felix, Robert Fleck, Charles Juliet
1996 Soulages, Noir lumière. (Musée d'Art Moderne de 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 / 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 (Louvre, Paris) Text by Isabelle Monod-Fontaine
1989 Soulages: 40 jahre Malerei (in German, Fridericianum, Kassel / Cantz Verlag, Stuttgart) Text by Veit Loers, Bernard Ceysson
1989 Soulages: 40 ans de peinture (in French, Musée d'Arts de Nantes) Essays by Henry-Claude Cousseau, Veit Loers
1989 Soulages: 40 anos de pintura (in Spanish, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern) 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 (Musee 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 (Musée Dynamique, Dakar / Fundaçào Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon) Text by Léopold Sédar Senghor

Honours and awards[edit]

Awards that Soulages received included:[11]


  1. ^ a b c Schofield, Hugh (24 June 2014). "The president and the 'greatest living artist' in the world". BBC. Archived from the original on 24 June 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Pierre Soulages: Beyond black". www.christies.com. Archived from the original on 31 July 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Pierre Soulages, France's 'Beyond Black' painter, dies at 102". france24.com. 26 October 2022. Retrieved 27 October 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e Masters, Christopher (26 October 2022). "Pierre Soulages obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 October 2022.
  5. ^ a b "Le peintre Pierre Soulages est mort" (in French). Le Monde. 26 October 2022. Retrieved 26 October 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d Grimes, William (26 October 2022). "Pierre Soulages, Leading French Abstract Painter, Dies at 102". The New York Times. Vol. 172, no. 59589. p. B12. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 29 October 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Noce, Vincent (26 October 2022). "Pierre Soulages, who found infinite possibility in black abstract paintings, has died, aged 102". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 28 October 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d "Pierre Soulages". Guggenheim Museum. 2022. Retrieved 27 October 2022.
  9. ^ a b Stremmler, Kerstin (26 October 2022). "Pierre Soulages malte in Schwarz und war dennoch der Maler des Lichts. Nun ist der grosse französische Meister der Abstraktion im Alter von 102 Jahren gestorben". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  10. ^ a b Paik, Sherry (4 March 2019). "Pierre Soulages / Artworks, Exhibitions, Profile & Content". ocula.com. Archived from the original on 6 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d e "Pierre Soulages" (PDF). Lévy Gorvy. Retrieved 28 October 2022.
  12. ^ "Soulages – Pierre Soulages et les vitraux de l'abbatiale de Conques – Ina.fr". Soulages. Archived from the original on 8 December 2017. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  13. ^ "Biographie /". www.pierre-soulages.com. Archived from the original on 1 September 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  14. ^ Artnet, "Pierre Soulages" Archived 27 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved June 2016
  15. ^ The Museum Archived 2 October 2015 at the Wayback Machine Musée Soulages, Retrieved June 2016
  16. ^ "Pierre Soulages". Lévy Gorvy. 2019. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  17. ^ "Ambition still burns in art star Soulages at 99". France 24. 4 February 2019. Archived from the original on 1 September 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  18. ^ Musée Soulages, Rodez Painting, 324 X 362 cm, 1986 (Polyptyque I) Archived 4 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved July 2016
  19. ^ a b c d Zoe Stillpass (photography: Patrick Demarchelier): Pierre Soulages Archived 20 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine Interview Magazine, 5 August 2014, Retrieved July 2016
  20. ^ a b Ben Davis: Pierre Soulages, Happy to Stay in the Dark Archived 7 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine Artnet, 19 June 2014, Retrieved July 2016
  21. ^ Jean-Max Albert, Pierre Soulages, Mouvement sans emplacement, Opus International, n°57, 1975.
  22. ^ Claire Rosemberg: Black is the new black for Pierre Soulages, France's best known living artist, Archived 14 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine The Telegraph (online), 14 October 2009, Retrieved July 2016
  23. ^ Robert C. Morgan: Pierre Soulages: Painter of Black and Light Archived 3 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine Hyperallergic (online), 14 May 2014, Retrieved July 2016
  24. ^ a b Honolulu Museum of Art, wall label, 17 December 1966, accession 4400.1
  25. ^ a b Laporte, Arnaud (21 November 2019). "Rencontre : Pierre Soulages, portrait de l'artiste en jeune homme". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 19 February 2023.
  26. ^ Nina Siegal (29 November 2019), Black Is Still the Only Color for Pierre Soulages Archived 1 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  27. ^ "Le peintre Pierre Soulages est mort à Nîmes à l'âge de 102 ans". midilibre.fr (in French). Retrieved 10 February 2023.
  28. ^ "L'œuvre Peinture 324 x 362 cm, 1985 – Centre Pompidou". Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2019.
  29. ^ Soulages, Pierre (27 July 1956). "Painting, 130.2 x 162.5 cm". Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. and Soulages, Pierre (24 August 1979). "Painting, 222 x 157 cm". Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  30. ^ "Pierre Soulages French, 1919–2022". MoMA. 2022. Retrieved 27 October 2022.
  31. ^ "Pierre Soulages". National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  32. ^ Adamson, Natalie (4 June 2014). "Pierre Soulages, the Nouvelle École de Paris, and Painting 202 x 143 cm, 6 November 1967". Art Journal. 41. Retrieved 28 October 2022.
  33. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1712. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  34. ^ "A 96 ans, Pierre Soulages fait Grand'Croix dans l'ordre de la Légion d'Honneur". France 3 Occitanie (in French). 7 June 2016. Archived from the original on 1 September 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  35. ^ "Pierre Soulages reçoit le Grand Prix du rayonnement français". Midi Libre. 1 October 2019. Retrieved 28 October 2022.

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