Artwork Detail

Peinture 200 x 265 cm, 20 mai 1959 (Painting 200 x 265 cm, 20 May 1959)
May 20, 1959
French, b. 1919
Oil on canvas
78 5/8 x 104 5/16 "
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard K. Weil, 1961
WU 3922
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Pierre Soulages was associated with the French postwar movements "art informel" and "tachisme," two subtly distinct terms coined by two different French critics that nonetheless describe similar forms of abstraction in which effects of spontaneity, including the gestural brushstroke, became a metaphor for the isolated individual searching for meaning in the aftermath of World War II. Made in the late 1950s, "Peinture 200 x 265 cm, 20 mai 1959," however, seems to resist such psychological or politicized interpretations. Although abstract, it does not evoke an act of spontaneous free expression, but rather, with its controlled clusters of black and blue strokes applied with a flat, hard-edged tool, it suggests a deliberate and methodical process. As suggested by the title, which simply chronicles the medium, dimensions, and date of the painting’s creation, the painting refers primarily to the closed and systematic terms of its own production, emphasizing its status as an object rather than an expression of a subjective state. For Soulages this overt defiance of symbolic or even subjective meaning may have been a way of carving out a space of intellectual freedom during the Cold War, when cultural propaganda was at a peak. [Exhibition label, 2015]