Pierre Soulages at the Louvre: light on the black

Pierre Soulages au Louvre: lumière sur le noir

Pierre Soulages, photographed at the Louvre on Tuesday. The artist will also be 100 years on December 24.

December 13, 2019 17h38


Pierre Soulages at the Louvre: light on the black

Aurélie Mayembo

Agence France-Presse


PARIS — It is an exhibition that is assessed differently depending on the clarity of day and the presence of the sun. Exploration of light through a color, the black, the work of Pierre Soulages has been celebrated since Wednesday at the Louvre, at the dawn of the age of 100.

So far, only Picasso and Chagall had had this privilege, for their 90 years. So few artists have had the honors of the institution of their living, they are even less likely to have a career spread over eight decades, and an obsession comes to the infinite.

Rather than a large retrospective brings together hundreds of works of art such as the Centre Pompidou, ten years ago, the Louvre is focused on twenty paintings of the master, considered the greatest living French artist.

A choice narrowed to this tribute until march 9, 2020, with loans from around the world (Tate in London, the Guggenheim in New York, the museum Soulages in Rodez…), a sign of its recognition of both sides of the Atlantic.

The idea is to see how the work of this painter, very early attracted by the black, “grows and changes”, emphasises Alfred Pacquement, curator of the exhibition with Pierre Encrevé, leading expert on the painter, who died in the beginning of the year.

Creator of contrast

The walnut from its beginnings in the 40s to the tar, a material usually few popular artists, in oils, then in acrylic paint that he uses exclusively since 2004, the works are presented chronologically, as if to gain a better understanding of the evolution of the painter, focused towards more radicalism.

Not surprisingly, a large part of the exhibition is dedicated to outrenoir, this universe created by Soulages in 1979, when it took the turn of complete darkness, focusing on the contrast between smooth and stripes, matte and glossy, and, of course, black and light.

“These are differences of textures, smooth, wiry, calm, tense, or agitated, that is, capturing or denying the light, give birth to black grey or blacks. The reflection is taken into account and becomes an integral part of the work,” explains Soulages in a record.

The visitor is thus invited to gravitate to works, in order to grasp the nuances, to see emerge from the gray or blend in with the material.

“Today is a very grey day, but it was sunny during the days of installation. We saw works very differently and we can see them differently,” said during the visit of the press Mr. Pacquement.

99-year-old, Soulages has not finished exploring this territory that he has created. For proof, these two vertical tables of 3.90 metres, completed this fall, highlighting his incredible longevity.

Place the felt

If it is a lot explained on the outrenoir, Soulages is not a man to theorize his work and simply names his paintings by their size and their execution date (ex : paint, 326x18cm, march 14, 2009). As if to leave room for the felt.

The Louvre gave him a casket, in this case, the Lounge Square, a few steps from The winged Victory of Samothrace lit by a glass roof that brings in the light.

“The Square Lounge is a place where is usually Italian painting before the Renaissance and, in particular, The Maestà of Cimabue, a huge table in every sense of the term. One picks up all of this, these tables are the more prestigious” for mine, and marveled at recently Soulages in an interview in the World.

Installed for years in Sète, with his wife Colette, the artist has made the trip to Paris to oversee the hanging of the works and will come back for the inauguration. “He saw this as an important moment in the dissemination of his work,” confirms, moved, Mr. Pacquement, who rubbed shoulders with for many years.

Pierre Soulages au Louvre: lumière sur le noir

2 Paint 324X362 (1985) is one of the works exhibited at the Louvre until march 9, 2020.

AFP, Francois Guillot



PARIS — pure black, he has been able to bring forth the light. Creator without compromise, Pierre Soulages, the greatest French artist alive, never ceases to explore the mysteries of this pigment and paint… a few days away from its centenary.

“I love the authority of black, its gravity, its evidence, its radicality […] The black has unsuspected possibilities,” explains the artist, one of the few to have the honors of the Louvre, since Wednesday, in his lifetime. “It is a color that is very active. You put black next to a dark color and it lights up, î he told in an interview to the AFP.

Great, always dressed in black, Soulages has never cut the bond with his birthplace, Aveyron, while painting also. He is a man of loyalty, to himself, to the landscapes of his childhood, to large platters, to his artistic quest of light.

For more than 75 years, it charts his tireless furrow, attracting the recognition of cultural institutions and the art market which has made it one of the French artists in the business’s most highly-rated.

At the approach of his exhibition at the Louvre, one of his paintings from 1960 was sold for 9.6 million euros (14 M$) in Paris, a world record. The previous record was$ 9.2 Million for a painting from 1959, which was sold just one year in New York.

“It just means that there are wealthy people who can buy art”, was recently interviewed by a journalist from the World.

Museum in Rodez

In may 2014 he was then 94 years, he has had the rare privilege to attend the inauguration in Rodez, his hometown, a museum entirely dedicated to his work.

Soulages was born on December 24, 1919 in a modest house in the early Nineteenth century. His father, a craftsman coachbuilder, died when he was only five years old. He was raised by his mother who keeps a shop of fishing and hunting.

Very early on, Soulages disdains “the lovely colors of watercolor” and painted in the ink of the trees in winter, bare branches, the effects of snow.

During a school visit to the abbey of Sainte-Foy of Conques, near, the young man has a revelation in front of the beauty of this romanesque church : he became a painter.

Pierre Soulages is admitted to the Beaux-Arts in Paris on the eve of the Second world War. But skipped classes, preferring to train to Montpellier. There he met in 1941 Colette Llaurens, marrying her a year later, fitted with false papers to escape from the Service of obligatory work (STO), which forced young French men to work for Germany.

Pierre and Colette are almost always together.

As early as 1947, the young artist moved to Paris where he was noticed by Francis Picabia, who encourages, as well as Fernand Léger. The abstract painting has the the odds. But it is red, yellow, blue. Soulages him, chooses to work with the humble walnut stain, used to stain the wood, and brushes of painter.

One hundred stained glass windows

In the 1950s, his paintings are in the most prestigious museums of the world such as the Guggenheim New York or the Tate Gallery in London. He met the main representatives of the New York School, including Mark Rothko, who becomes his friend.

The large canvases of the 1950s to the 1970s bear witness of the painter’s work on the chiaroscuro. Black says in a report to other colors like red or blue, in particular, with the technique of scraping.

In 1959, Soulages is to build a home-studio on the heights of Sète, facing the Mediterranean, where he still lives. It also has two workshops in Paris.

The artist, who prefers to work flat, switch to “outrenoir,” in 1979 : while it was hardly a work entirely covered with a thick black, Soulages realizes that he just crossed a cape in the streaking.

“I was beyond the black, in another mental space, he told. The pot with which I paint is black. But it is the light, diffused by reflections, which is important.”

In 1986, the State places an order for more than 100 stained glass windows for the abbey church of Conques. They were inaugurated in 1994.

The fame of the painter does not cease extending. At the end of 2009, his major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou attracts half a million visitors. Pascale Mollard-Chenebenoit, Agence France-Presse

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