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Serge Poliakoff (Russia/France 1906‑1969)

Composition abstraite

Hammered at SEK 1.750.000 at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 16-18 June 2020

Lot 813. Serge Poliakoff (Russia/France 1906‑1969) Composition abstraite. Signed and dated Serge Poliakoff 53 XI and dated on reverse 1952/3. Oil on canvas, 61 x 46 cm.

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


1.000.000 – 1.500.000 SEK
€ 94.000 – 142.000


Galerie Ariel, Paris.
The collection of Arne Sörgård (1927‑2018), Halmstad.

In context

Serge Poliakoff’s vibrant Composition abstraite

“When a picture is silent, it means it is successful. Some of my pictures begin in tumult. They are explosive. But I am not satisfied until they become silent. A shape should be listened to, not seen”.

Serge Poliakoff’s vivid painting “Composition abstraite” was executed in 1953 and shows an arrangement of different shapes divided into several parts of the canvas. Even though there is no direct symmetry between the colour fields, together they form a true chromatic balance. The colours appear through various forms where every shape is unique, yet the yellow, wine-dreg browns, different shades of red, creamy white and soft black reappear. The early 1950’s was a crucial period in Poliakoff’s life and he stopped using outlines to juxtapose his forms on the canvas. Instead he let the colour distinguish the pattern. Poliakoff often used untreated canvases with grainy texture, on which he added pigments crushed and reassembled by hand. Through the use of this method, Poliakoff created vibrant surfaces with a captivating movement, which almost seem to dance. The importance of vibration was expressed by Poliakoff in 1952 when he laid eyes on Malevich’s famous ”White square on white background”; ”He demonstrated to me once again the vital role of the vibration of the material. Even if there is no color, a painting where the material vibrates remains alive.”

At the heart of his work was the extreme care with colour, which he expressed by stating: “the only important thing is the quality of the colour”. Poliakoff’s early post-war work is often characterized by his use of earthy and warm colours such as shades of brown, red, yellow and black. A certain method was developed where he painted in successive layers and each colour brings different shades to light. A blue layer is peeping through the creamy white in the mid part of “Composition abstraite” and red tones are seen between the yellow, creating a range of shades. The artist invites the viewer to look beyond the surface, similar to that of American painters of the colourfield movement such as Mark Rothko. The mystery in their paintings lies in the balance between the form, colour and irregular surface.

Born in Moscow on the 8th of January 1900, Serge Poliakoff became one of the most important abstract painters of post-war 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 subjects such as nudes, nature and horses. This came to change in 1935 when 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.

His work developed in a way where he let colour itself form the context of the painting. Like many of his contemporary 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.

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, Tate Gallery in London, 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. The present work shows the early form of Poliakoff’s abstract compositions.

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