Pierre Soulages

Painting, 23 May 1953

1953

Original title
Peinture, 23 mai 1953
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1949 x 1302 mm
frame: 1986 x 1331 x 50 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1953
Reference
N06199

Display caption

The title of this painting refers to the date of its completion. Soulages began experimenting with abstraction in 1947, using heavy brushstrokes of black paint against a light background. This calligraphic style was to become increasingly vigorous and gestural throughout the 1950s. Soulages has said that for him abstraction is a means of exploring his imagination and inner experience. In 1950 he explained: 'I work, guided by inner impulse, a longing for certain forms, colours and materials, and it is not until they are on the canvas that they tell me what I want'.

Gallery label, July 2008

Catalogue entry

Pierre Soulages born 1919

N06199 Peinture, 23 mai 1953 (Painting, 23 May 1953) 1953

Inscribed 'Soulages' b.r. and 'Soulages | 23 mai 53' on back of canvas (the latter inscription is repeated on the stretcher, together with the artist's address in the rue Schoelcher, Paris)
Oil on canvas, 76 ¾ x 51 ¼ (195 x 130)
Purchased from the artist (Knapping Fund) 1953
Repr: R.H. Wilenski, The Modern Movement in Art (London 1957), pl.58; John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery (London 1966), p.261

The artist wrote as follows about this work on 8 December 1953:

'The painting "23 May 1953" (195cm/130cm) which the Tate Gallery has just bought was finished on 23 May 1953 and had been begun several weeks earlier.

'This painting belongs to a series of works on a common theme. The first in date is a painting in turpentine on paper of 1951; followed by a small canvas "15 December 1951" (46cm/38cm) acquired by the Galerie Louis Carré, Paris; then taken up again in 53: "16 May 1953" (46cm/33cm), collection P. Bloch, Paris.

'These works were not done as a conscious series of studies for the large painting you own, but are variations which nevertheless prepare the way for the painting "23 May 1953".

'I choose to designate my paintings by the date of their completion; this is no more than a practical means of placing them in time and giving them a name.'

For a later variant of the same theme, see 'Painting, 16 June 1953' (canvas, 41 x 33cm) reproduced in colour in James Johnson Sweeney, Soulages (London 1972), pl.26.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.699, reproduced p.699

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