Sam Francis

Around the Blues

1957, 1962–3

Not on display

Sam Francis 1923–1994
Oil paint and acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 2755 × 4875 × 50mm
Purchased 1964

Display caption

During the Second World War Sam Francis served as a pilot with the American armed forces. He took up painting while recovering from a flying accident in 1944. From 1950-7 he lived in Paris, where he saw first-hand the paintings of Monet, Matisse, Cézanne and Bonnard. In September 1956 he visited an exhibition of Monet's 'Water Lilies', paintings which had aroused his interest for some time and which had an impact on his work. For Francis each colour has a symbolic value: white corresponds to the infinite, blue to the cosmos and water, and yellow to the sun. His experience as a pilot has a bearing on paintings such as this one, which have the appearance of aerial views and communicate the silence of the skies.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Sam Francis born 1923 [- 1994]

T00634 Around the Blues 1957/1962

Inscribed 'Around the Blues 1957' on back of canvas
Oil and Magna colour on canvas, 108 x 192 (274 x 487.5)
Purchased from the artist (The Trustees of the Tate Gallery Discretionary Fund) 1964
Exh: Sam Francis, Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, November-December 1957 (no catalogue) as 'Round the Blues'; Primera Bienal Interamericana de Pintura y Grabado, Museo Nacional de Artes Plasticas, Mexico City, June-August 1958 (US section, works not listed); on loan to Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass., October 1958-December 1959; Dunn International, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick, September-October 1963 (27, repr.); Tate Gallery, November-December 1963 (27, repr.)
Lit: Curtis H. Shell and John McAndrew, Catalogue of European and American Sculpture, Paintings and Drawings at Wellesley College (Wellesley 1958), p. 61 as 'Around the Blues'
Repr: Arts, XXXVIII, January 1964, p. 51; Norbert Lynton, The Modern World (London 1965), p.150 in colour; Terry Measham, The Moderns 1945-1975 (London 1976), pl.51 in colour

This picture was painted mainly in 1957 and was first exhibited at the Martha Jackson Gallery in November-December that year together with a number of watercolours. The artist has stated (letter of 8 March 1964): 'It was reworked in 1962. Certain colors were strengthened, mostly blues. Also, the whites were cleaned up and retouched where needed. The white is actually the ground. The ground is made of liquitex gesso white. The painted parts are painted with Winsor-Newton oil color, thinned with turpentine, in to which has been added a bit of varnish. Also, some colors are painted with Magna color, a plastic paint made by Shiva, often mixed with oil paint.'

Comparison with a photograph of the original state taken when the picture was on loan to Wellesley College in 1958-9 confirms that no very radical changes were made during the reworking. The main differences (colour apart) seem to be that the artist tended to soften the rather rigid edges of the shapes and to give the whole composition a looser and more fluid character.

When shown at Fredericton in 1963 in the Dunn International it was awarded one of the six equal prizes of $5,000.

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.225, reproduced p.225

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