It is with profound sadness that we share the news of the passing of our dear friend and artist Pierre Soulages. The most significant and internationally recognized artist of his time in France, he was 102 years old. Our thoughts and most sincere condolences are with Colette Soulages, the artist’s wife and partner of 80 years, as well as his family, friends, studio, and Alfred Pacquement, president of the Musée Soulages. We have been immensely privileged and honored to work closely with Soulages for nearly two decades. While to most, he is known as the painter of black, we hope he will forever be remembered as the painter of light. Soulages was a prolific creative force—a painter, sculptor, and draftsman—who approached his work not only with skill and intuition, but also with conceptual, philosophical, and alchemical rigor. He forged a career remarkable for its openness to reinvention and its longevity. Through his astonishing body of work, Soulages beckoned us to look at art with incisiveness, curiosity, and wonder. He leaves a legacy of influence that can be felt throughout generations of artists and around the world. We are so grateful to have shared in the gift of his and Colette’s friendship, and his artistic collaboration and breathtaking work.
Our work with Soulages traces back to 2004 when Emilio Steinberger organized an exhibition of the artist’s paintings at Robert Miller Gallery in New York, which then represented figures such as Joan Mitchell, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Krasner, and Alice Neel. Dominique Lévy had previously become acquainted with Soulages in the 1980s, introduced by the Swiss gallerist, collector, and artist Alice Pauli, a longstanding champion of Soulages who died earlier this year at the age of 100. In 2014, Dominique Lévy and Galerie Perrotin opened the first exhibition in ten years in the United States devoted to the artist at 909 Madison Avenue in New York. On the occasion of the exhibition, we published two books: Soulages in America, comprising an extensive interview with Philippe Ungar that explores the artist’s work in the 1950s and ‘60s as well as his prominence in America and New York; and Pierre Soulages, featuring an interview with the artist by Hans Ulrich Obrist. The exhibition opened in concert with the Musée Soulages in Rodez, France, a museum in Soulages’s native city, to which he donated a major contribution of 500 of his works. In 2019, Lévy Gorvy mounted Pierre Soulages: A Century, an exhibition celebrating the artist’s 100th birthday with a presentation of works spanning his career from the 1950s to today, accompanied by a catalogue with essays by Alfred Pacquement, curator and former director of the Centre Pompidou, and American art critic Brooks Adams.
Remarking on their years of friendship and collaboration, Lévy says, “We were honored to see him and Colette multiple times a year at their home in the beautiful seaside landscape of Sète, France, where he also had his studio. The highlight of our memorable visits came when Soulages would invite us into his studio, where he rarely had visitors and worked alone.” At the age of 95, Soulages told The New York Times, in French, “Black is the color of the origin of painting—and our own origin. In French, we say the baby ‘sees the day,’ to mean he was born. Before that, of course, we were in the dark.” While mourning his loss, it is with this ethos, of finding light in the dark, that we continue to celebrate the life and legacy of Pierre Soulages, and to ensure that his art and unwavering spirit live on. We are deeply committed to carrying forward his legacy and pursuing further major exhibitions of his work, scholarly publications, and recognition by international institutions.
Born in Rodez, France in 1919, Soulages studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montpellier. He and Colette married in 1942. In 1947, he exhibited his post-Cubist abstract paintings for the first time at the Salon des Surindépendants in Paris. The following year, he was approached by MoMA curator James Johnson Sweeney, and in 1949, his work appeared in a group show at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. A friend to figures including Francis Picabia, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst, and Mark Rothko, he was a prominent presence in New York in the postwar period dominated by gestural painting. The legendary dealer Samuel Kootz presented Soulages’s first solo exhibition in the United States in 1954, and by the mid-‘50s the artist was a peer of Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, and Robert Motherwell. With his definitive later series Outrenoir—a title Soulages defined as “beyond black”—his work remained in vibrant dialogue with such contemporary figures as Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, and Christopher Wool.
In 2001, Soulages became the first contemporary artist to be exhibited at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 2009, his retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, attracted over 500,000 visitors, becoming the largest show the museum had ever devoted to a living artist. In 2019, the Musée du Louvre, Paris, opened the retrospective Pierrre Soulages, curated by the late Pierre Encrevé, art historian and author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, and Alfred Pacquement. This exhibition marked the third time in the revered institution’s history that the Salon Carré has been entirely devoted to the presentation of work by a single living artist—an unparalleled honor held only by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. Soulages’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Tate, London; Centre Pompidou and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; and the Long Museum, Shanghai, among many others.