Pierre Soulages Before Black

On 23 October 2020, by Caroline Legrand

Considered lost until now, this impeccably referenced early work by Pierre Soulages illustrates the career of the man and the French artist.

Pierre Soulages (b. 1919), Le Pont-Neuf, 1938, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm.
Estimate: €120,000/150,000

Only the signature sheds light on the creator of this painting: though the inimitable style of the master of "outrenoir" is not really identifiable, Pierre Soulages's name is clearly written at the bottom. The French artist—who celebrated his centenary in 2019 with an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris and at Lévy Gorvy's in New York—recognized his work with no difficulty, and provided a certificate of authenticity for its future buyer. This view of the Pont-Neuf in Paris is impeccably referenced, particularly in Pierre Encrevé's books on Pierre Soulages (published by Le Seuil), and the artist remembers the context of its creation. The young man from the Aveyron region, in Southern France, moved to Paris at the start of the 1938 academic year; he was 18 at the time, and wanted to study as a drawing teacher. He settled down in the capital with a fellow student from Rodez, André Lacome, in a guest house in Rue du Commandeur in the 14th arrondissement. His teacher René Jaudon was rapidly won over by his bold style and suggested he compete for the Ecole des Beaux Arts and later the Rome Prize. Although admitted with flying colors in the spring of 1939, Soulages abandoned this plan, disappointed by the school's extremely academic teaching. He decided to leave Paris, taking with him only two works to remind him of his time there: an oil on cardboard view of Rue du Commandeur at night lit by a street lamp, which he kept, and an oil on canvas of the Pont-Neuf painted in 1938. He had the latter with him in Rodez while preparing for the second part of the Baccalaureate, then at the Montpellier Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1941, where he studied to be a drawing teacher. He also exhibited it at the city theater with works by pupils of the art school. During this period, the painting was bought directly from the artist by one Mr. C., a shrewd collector from Montpellier and a cousin of the artist's wife, Colette Llaurens. Although links with the family were broken after the collector's death, as Soulages lost contact with them, the work remained in the family until today. A testimony of the first pictorial experiments of the artist who abandoned painting between 1942 and 1945, working as a steward on a wine estate, before embarking on his explorations of abstraction.

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