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Serge Poliakoff (1906‑1969)

Composition abstraite

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 10-13 December 2019

Nr. 665 Serge Poliakoff (Russia/France 1906‑1969). Composition abstraite. Signed with monogram SP. Tempera on paper laid on canvas, 22 x 27 cm.

Executed in 1966.
The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Alexis Poliakoff. It is registered in the Serge Poliakoff Archives under number 965062.


300.000 – 400.000 SEK
€ 28.000 – 37.000


Erker Galerie AG, St. Gallen, Switzerland.
The collection of Göran Gimdal, Gotheburg, Sweden.
A Swedish Private Collection.


Alexis Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume V, 1966‑1969, 2016, illustrated in colour p. 83, no. 66‑17.

In context

Serge Poliakoff’s Composition abstraite – a symphony of colour and form

Born in Moscow on the 8th of January 1900, the Russian painter Serge Poliakoff became one of the most important abstract painters of postwar Europe. After fleeing revolutionary Russia in 1917, Poliakoff made a short stop in Constantinopel before arriving in Paris in 1923. While earning his living as a musician, Poliakoff’s interest in the art of painting grew and in 1929 he enrolled in both Académie Forchot and Académie de la Grande Chaumière. During his first period in the French capital, Poliakoff’s work were mainly focused on classic Academic subject such as nudes, nature and horses. However this came to change in 1935 when Serge Poliakoff again moved, this time to London where he continued his studies at the Slade School of Fine Art. From now on the abstract side of art and the layering of paint becomes a subject of interest for the 35-year old Poliakoff.

A few years later Serge once again set sail for Paris. Poliakoff’s second spell in Paris came to be a period of immerse studies in the art of colourful abstract painting. A great source of inspiration was his new acquaintance and fellow countryman Wassily Kandinsky. Further inspiration was drawn from the artist couple of Sonia and Robert Delaunay as well as the sculptor Otto Freundlich, all working with abstract colourful art.

Poliakoff’s work now developed in a way where he let colour itself form the context of the painting and like all abstract painters Poliakoff became concerned with the relationships between line and surface, form and content, colour and light. Being a professional musician until 1952, his paintings have a graceful asymmetry showing his desire to create an image in which all elements of colour, proportion and form are completely resolved. During the late 1940’s Poliakoff developed his very special way of abstract painting, arranging different fields of colour alongside one another and he came to be a front figure for the École de Paris.

Poliakoff’s early post-war work is often characterized by his use of earthy colours such as shades of brown and grey. In “Composition abstraite” from 1966 he returns to the deep red, yellow and black. The painting is composed in his characteristic interlocking jigsaw arrangements, a style he returned to several times during the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Le silence complet, the poise and balance in the composition, is evident in this painting visible in the irregular fields interlocking on the canvas. Relying fully on his intuition, Poliakoff mixed paint from pure pigment himself and covered the canvas in luminous colours, almost creating a movement on the surface. The space, proportions and rhythm were the key elements in Poliakoff’s oeuvre and the gaze of the viewer is immediately drawn toward the centre of the canvas due to the increasing density of forms and colours. His fields of colours are surrounded by contours, always slightly blurred as in the painting included in this auction, giving a vibrating impression and almost optical illusion. This vivid painting is a striking example of Poliakoff’s belief that “space, not the artist, must model the forms. They must be part-sculpture, part-architecture. Geometric form must turn into organic form, and it’s the inward pressure of space that does that. Space makes form – not the other way round” (S. Poliakoff, quoted in Serge Poliakoff, Retrospective 1938-1963, exh. cat, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1963, p. 15).

Serge Poliakoff is regarded as one of the foremost artists of the 20th century and has influenced the western art scene to a great extent. During his lifetime, he was praised by the most influential abstract art historians and played a major part in the post-war debates on abstraction. His celebrated works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, the Malmö konsthall in Sweden and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. among others, as well as in many prominent private collections worldwide.

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