Sam Francis

Untitled (SFP80-75)


Acrylic on canvas

28″ x 114-1/4″ (71.1 x 290.2 cm) 


Sam Francis

Untitled (SF76-1108)


Acrylic on paper

15-1/2″ x 11-3/4″ (63.8 x 52.7 cm)


Sam Francis (1923–1994) was an American Abstract Expressionist whose paintings and prints have received international acclaim. Often associated with the second generation of Abstract Expressionists whose work emerged in the 1950s, Francis’ pioneering style helped to establish the movement on the West Coast as well as throughout the world. His vibrant canvases—often massive in scale—have also been claimed by the Color Field movement of the 1950s because of their richly saturated hues. That Francis’ art cannot be reduced to a single movement speaks to his consistently innovative interpretations and manipulations of color throughout the second half of the twentieth century.

Francis maintained studios in Los Angeles, New York, Bern, Tokyo, and Paris while exhibiting throughout the United States and Europe. His extensive travel not only situated his work within an international milieu, but also greatly informed his practice through contact with new aesthetic sensibilities. Inspiration from French masters including Claude Monet and Henri Matisse reinforced Francis’ predisposition for luminous color. Yet his dripping, organic forms can at times appear brooding and contemplative, recalling his early encounters with works by Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. Francis’ original motifs and evocations of vast space demonstrate his energetic curiosity and absolute mastery of color.

Sam Francis was born in San Mateo, California to Samuel Augustus Francis, Sr. and Katherine Lewis Francis. He enrolled at University of California, Berkeley where he began taking preliminary courses in medicine. During the war, Francis temporarily suspended his studies to join the Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot. However, a plane accident during a training exercise left Francis critically injured. He spent nearly two years immobilized in bed while recovering from spinal tuberculosis. Although he had no previous experience, Francis found painting therapeutic and quickly discovered an innate ability.

Upon recovery, Francis returned to his studies in Berkeley where he completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in painting and art history. In the early 1950s Francis used his G.I. bill to study at the atelier of Fernand Léger in Paris, establishing himself within the international art world as an emissary of American abstraction.

Influenced by the quality of Parisian light, Francis’ paintings were temporarily drained of color. He focused instead on a monochromatic palette in preparation for his mature style. Works from his time in Paris have an ethereal, painterly quality that distanced Francis from the gestural works of his Abstract Expressionist predecessors. Francis’ compositions became increasingly activated by instability and empty space. His work was championed by Parisians Claude Duhuit—the son-in-law of Henri Matisse—and Michel Tapié and in 1952 Francis received his first solo exhibition at Galerie Nina Dausset in Paris.

By the mid 1950s Francis began working in the style for which he is well known, creating cell-like shapes of primary colors clustered within white space. By 1956, Francis was recognized as “the hottest American painter in Paris” by Time Magazine. He traveled to Tokyo one year later to paint a mural for the Sogetsu School. In 1958 he was included in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York called “The New American Painting.” Other artists exhibiting were: Jack Tworkov, Theodoros Stamos, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, James Brooks, Philip Guston, and William Baziotes.

Francis’ style in the later 1950s expanded to a much larger scale. These mural-sized works are dominated by bright, open space bordered by colorful and compelling abstract forms. During the later part of the 1950s Francis began traveling and working in Japan where he drew inspiration from Japanese aesthetics and philosophy. Francis continued to travel throughout the 1960s, living and working again in Paris and then in Bern, Germany.  Following health concerns in 1961, Francis returned to California, first living in Santa Barbara and then moving to Santa Monica.

During the second half of the 1960s Francis developed his Edge Paintings both on canvas and paper. He is also recognized for reviving the art of color lithography during this time. In Santa Monica, Francis purchased a property on West Channel Road that became his permanent home base. However, he continued to travel and exhibit frequently in Japan. In 1968 he was recognized for his international accomplishments with an honorary Ph.D. from his alma mater, University of California, Berkeley.

Francis lived primarily in Tokyo during the early 1970s, though he continued to work internationally and exhibit in many of the world’s major cities: Paris, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. A monograph, Sam Francis, was written and published in 1975.

Francis then began to collaborate with Garner Tullis in a series of monotypes and prints. His style in the mid to late 1970s is full of movement and color. Effervescent grid-like structures are presented in bright color on crisp white paper and canvas. Toward the end of the decade, these rectangular grids became more sharply delineated with complex, dark colors: deep blues, dark purples, and rich reds and yellows.

In 1981, he opened a temporary studio in San Leandro, California in order to paint larger murals.  Francis’ work in the early 1980s demonstrated a freer hand: lines became less rigid and white space again became prevalent. Rather than intersecting grids dividing the compositional space, spots and strokes created patterns full of color, motion, and energy.  The theme of rippling squares, beginning in the center of the page and radiating outward, took form in the early part of the decade. Many of his works in 1983 were more minimal, calm, and clean, emphasizing brush stroke and ink density. In that year Francis received the prestigious French award: “Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.”

Francis began working at a studio in Venice, California in 1987, but continued to travel and work abroad until the end of his career. He maintained a studio near Manchester, England in Moss Farm as well as in Santa Monica, Palo Alto and Venice, California. Francis continued to create passionate, joyful works until the end of his career.

An important body of work was created during his last year in 1994. After not being able to paint for over a year due to his metastatic cancer, Francis’ creative energy led him to make an important group of works in the six months before his death known as The Last Works, a group of 152 paintings on canvas and panel. Bold, bright, and incredibly energetic, characterized by thick applications of paint and contrasting colors. The Last Works, when viewed in their entirety appear as a retrospective of the artist’s career. Francis’ work from that year was prolific and beautiful, and filled with exuberance that will always endure.

Sam Francis died in Santa Monica, California on November 4, 1994.

2015 – “Important Works on Paper” Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art

2013 – “Sam Francis,” Galerie Iris Wazzau, Davos Platz, Switzerland

2012 – “Sam Francis & Augustus Francis: Father & Son,” American Contemporary Art Gallery, Munich, Germany

2012 – “Sam Francis: California Zen,” Leslie Sacks Fine Art, Los Angeles, California

2011 – “Sam Francis: ‘Color is Light on Fire’,” Galerie Thomas Modern, Munich, Germany

2010/11 – Galerie Thomas Modern, Munich

2010/11 – Page Gallery, Seoul, South Korea

2010 /11 – Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, New York

2009 – College of the Canyons Art Gallery, Santa Clarita, California

2009 – Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie, Bielefeld, Germany

2009 – Guy Pieters Gallery, Knokke, Belgium

2008 – Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles, California

2008 – Galleria San Carlo, Milan, Italy

2006/07 – Galerie Flintholm, Verster Skerninge, Denmark

2006/07 – Robert Green Gallery, Mill Valley, California

2006/07 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, France

2004/05 – Museum Jan van der Togt, Amstelveen, Netherlands

2004/05 – Leslie Sacks Fine Art, Los Angeles, California

2004/05 – Movimento Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy

2002/04 – Galerie Pudelko, Bonn, Germany

2002/04 – Galerie Boisserée, Cologne, Germany

2002/04 – Artemis Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York, New York

2002/04 – Santa Monica Community College, Santa Monica, California

2002/04 – American Contemporary Art Gallery, Munich, Germany

2001 – Brian Gross Gallery, San Francisco, California

2001 – Galerie Guy Pieters, Saint-Paul de Vence, France

2001 – Alan Cristea Gallery, London, United Kingdom in association with Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California

2000 – Lawrence Rubin, Greenberg, Van Doren Fine Art, New York, New York

2000 – Galerie Delaive, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2000 – Richard Gray Gallery, New York, New York and Chicago, Illinois

2000 – Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo and Osaka, Japan

1999/2001 – The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Travelled to: The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas; Konsthall Malmö, Sweden; the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; Galleria Communale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, Italy

1999 – Leslie Sacks Fine Art, Los Angeles, California

1999 – Galleri Faurschou, Copenhagen, Denmark

1999 – Baukunst Galerie, Cologne, Germany

1998 – Thomas Segal Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland

1998 – Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain

1998 – Galleria Il Gabbiano, Rome, Italy

1997 – Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1997 – Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

1996 – Smith Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California

1996 – Sogetsu Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan

1996 – Gallery Guy Pieters, Knokke, Belgium

1995 – “The Last Paintings of Sam Francis,” The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

1995 – Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1995 – Kunstverein Ludwigsberg, Frankfurt, Germany

1995 – Jeu de Paume Museum, Paris, France

1994 – Long Fine Art, New York, New York

1994 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, France

1994 – University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, California

1993 – Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, Germany

1993 – Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Venice, California

1993 – Galerie Iris Wazzau, Davos, Switzerlan

1992 – Galerie Daniel Papierski, Paris, France

1992 – Museum van der Togt, Amsterdam, Holland, The Netherlands

1992 – Kukje Gallery, Seoul, South Korea

1991 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, Francce

1991 – James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1990 – Associated American Artists, New York, New York

1990 – Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

1990 – Heland Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden

1990 – Ogawa Art Foundation, Tokyo, Japan

1990 – Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

1989 – André Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1989 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, France

1989 – Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, United Kingdom

1989 – Sun Valley Center Gallery, Sun Valley, Idaho

1989 – Linda Farris Gallery, Seattle, Washington

1989 – Knoedler Gallery, London, United Kingdom

1988 – Toyama Museum, Toyama, Japan; Travelled to: The Museum of Modern Art, Seibu Takanawa, Karuizawa, Japan; The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, Japan; Ohara Museum of Art, Ohara, Japan; Murashiki, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan

1988 – Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1988 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, France

1988 – Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

1988 – Smith-Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California

1988 – Greenberg Gallery, St. Louis, Missouri

1988 – Galerie Seoul, Seoul, South Korea

1987 – Knoedler Gallery, London, United Kingdom

1987 – Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1987 – Pamela Auchincloss Gallery, Santa Barbara, California

1987 – Heland Thorden Wetterling Galleries, Stockholm, Sweden

1986 – Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1986 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, France

1986 – Nantenshi Gallery, Toyko, Japan

1985 – Galerie Kornfeld, Bern, Switzerland

1985 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, France

1985 – Nantenshi Gallery, Toyko, Japan

1985 – Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, Illinois

1984 – André Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1984 – Cantor/Lemberg Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan

1984 – Robert Elkon Gallery, New York, New York

1984 – Knoedler Gallery, London, United Kingdom

1983 – Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1983 – Galerie Kornfeld, Bern, Switzerland

1983 – Smith-Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California

1983 – Foundation Maeght, Saint Paul de Vence, France

1983 – Studio Marconi, Milan, Italy

1983 – Colorado State University, Colorado

1983 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, France

1983 – John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, California

1983 – Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

1982 – Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1982 – Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

1982 – Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, Illinois

1981 – Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1981 – Ace Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1981 – Ruth Schaffner Gallery, Santa Barbara, California

1980 – Riko Mizuno Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1980 – James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1980 – Smith-Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California

1980 – Abbaye de Senanque, Gordes, France

1980 – Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

1977/79 – Brooke Alexander, New York, New York

1977/79 – Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, California

1977/79 – Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts; Traveled to: Taiwan, Hong Kong, Philippines, Korea, Japan under the U.S. International Communication Agency

1977/79 – Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; portions of exhibition travelled to: Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden; Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

1977 – “Art in Progress at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art at Humlebæk,” Denmark; Traveled to: Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm

1975/77 – Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1975/77 – Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris, France

1975/77 – Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1975/77 – Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, Illinois

1975/77 – Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern, Switzerland

1975/77 – Smith-Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California

1973/74 – Minami Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

1973/74 – Idemitsu Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan

1972/73 – Stanford University Museum of Art, Berkeley, California

1972/73 – Retrospective solo museum exhibition at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Traveled to: Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, Texas; Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, California

1969/72 – Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, New York

1969/72 – Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

1969/72 – Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1969/72 – André Emmerich Gallery, New York, New York

1969/72 – Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles, California

1968 – Centre National d’ Art Contemporain, Paris, France

1968 – Minami Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

1967 – Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Travels to: University Art Museum, Berkeley, California

1967 – Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, New York

1960/66 – Kunsthalle, Bern; travels to Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

1960/66 – Minami Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

1960/66 – Esther Bear Gallery, Santa Barbara, California

1959 – Pasadena Art Museum, California; Traveled to: San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington

1958/59 – “The New American Painting”, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

1957 – Gimpel Fils, London, United Kingdom

1956 – Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, France

1956 – Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, France

1956 – “12 Americans,” The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

1955 – Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, France

1952 – Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, France

The Sam Francis Foundation

Artsy – “The Evolution of Sam Francis Through Five Works” By Stephen Dillon

Artnet – “6 Things to Know About Sam Francis on his Birthday” by Christine Chu

The Museum of Contemporary Art – “Sam Francis, Blue Balls VIII, 1961-62”

Art in America -“Best in the Studio: The Art of Sam Francis” by Darrell Hartman

The New York Times – “Review/Art; Sam Francis, at the Height of His Powers” by Roberta Smith

The New York Times – “A Closer Look at an Abstract Expressionist” by Mike Hale

The New York Times – “Sam Francis, 71, Abstract Artist Celebrated for His Use of Color” by Roberta Smith

The Los Angeles Times – “Appreciation: Sam Francis: On His Own Terms: The Artist Silently Broadcast the Obdurate Desire to be Remembered for His Work” by William Wilson

The Los Angeles Times – “Sam Francis: A Force of Nature” by Kristine McKenna

The Los Angeles Times – “Striking Universal Themes in Images of ‘Sam Francis’ “ by William Wilson

ARTnews – “The Sam Francis Exhibition Boom”by Daniel Grant

The Huffington Post – “Selections from Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994” by John Seed

You Tube – “Sam Francis” Video Exerpt by Michael Blackwood

The Getty Center – ‘The Painter Sam Francis” Video Exerpt by Jeffrey Perkins

The Charlotte Observer – “New Bechtler Museum Show Features Painter Sam Francis”

San Gabriel Valley Tribune – “Another Side of Sam Francis on view at the Norton Simon Museum” by Michelle Mills

Los Angeles Times – “Art Preview: Simple, Erotic Studies Drawn During Convalescence Show Sam Francis’ Influences” by Kirk Silsbee

Artsy – “Emptiness and Expression in the Works of Sam Francis” by Karen Kedmey

The Charlotte Observer – “Bechtler’s Sam Francis Show Captures the Essence of a Master” by Mark Leach

Norton Simon Museum – “Twentieth-Century Avant Garde: From Picasso to Sam Francis” – “Works in MAM’s Francis Show Carry Printmaking to Deep and Beautiful Realms” by Kevin Lynch