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Serge Poliakoff (Russia/France 1906-1969)

”Composition abstraite”

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 9 – 10 November 2022

Lot 495 Serge Poliakoff (Russia/France 1906-1969). ”Composition abstraite”. Signed Serge Poliakoff lower left. Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm.

Executed in 1967.
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Alexis Poliakoff dated 16 July 2005.
It is registered in the Serge Poliakoff archives no. 967035.
Uppsala Auktionskammare would like to thank Thaddée Poliakoff for valuable information when cataloguing this lot.


3.000.000 – 4.000.000 SEK
€ 274.000 – 366.000


Galerie Matignon Saint-Honoré, Paris.
Kristina Paulson François (1938-2022) and Georges François (1902-1981), acquired from the above in 1980.
Thence by descent to the present owner.


Galerie XXe Siècle, Paris, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 12 December 1968-15 January 1969.
Musée Despiau-Wlérick, Mont-de-Marsan,”Serge Poliakoff”, 20 July-31 August 1969.
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 22 September-16 November 1970, cat. no. 74, illustrated in the catalogue.
Maison de la Culture André Malraux, Reims, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 18 May-4 July 1971.
Tel Aviv Museum of Modern Art, Tel Aviv, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 27 December 1971-1 February 1972, cat. no. 30, illustrated in the catalogue.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Copenhagen, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 3 March-4 April 1972, cat. no. 30, illustrated in the catalogue.
Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 13-28 May 1972, cat. no. 30, illustrated in the catalogue.
Trondhjems Kunstforening, Trondheim, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 2-20 June 1972, cat. no. 30, illustrated in the catalogue.
Lillehammer Bys Malerisamlung, Lillehammer, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 23 June-14 July 1972, cat. no. 28.
Musée d’Art moderne, Tampere, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 15 August-17 September 1972, cat. no. 28.
Galerie des Arts, Helsinki, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 27 October-12 November 1972, cat. no. 28.
Galerie Veranneman, Brussels, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 25 January-17 February 1973, cat. no. 13.
Galerie Im Erker, St. Gallen, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 29 September-17 November 1973, cat. no. 11.
Musée Fabre, Montpellier, ”Serge Poliakoff”, July-October, 1974, cat. no. 50.
Musee des Beaux-Arts, La-Chaux-de-Fonds, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 22 February-6 April 1975, cat. no. 45.
Galerie Melki, Basel, ”Poliakoff”, 29 May-15 July 1975, cat. no. 69, illustrated in the catalogue.
Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 30 September-2 November 1975, cat. no. 43.
Sonja Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, Hovikodden, ”Poliakoff”, 5 February-14 March 1976, cat. no. 73.
Maison des Arts et Loisirs, Sochaux, ”Serge Poliakoff”, 7 April-13 May 1979.


CIESA Barcelone Weber, Encyclopédie Thématique Weber, l’Art universel, volume 15, 1974, illustrated in coulors p. 353.
Alexis Poliakoff, Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre de Serge Poliakoff, volume V 1966-1969, 2016, no. 67-72, illustrated in colours p. 224.

In context

Serge Poliakoff’s luminous ”Composition abstraite” from 1967 

Serge Poliakoff’s intriguing “Composition abstraite” was executed in 1967 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. The warm yellow, different shades of blue, creamy white, soft pink and bold red radiate the compositional strength and understanding of form which is characteristic for Poliakoff’s mature years. He 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.”

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 subjects such as nudes, nature and horses. However 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 became a subject of interest for the 35-year old Poliakoff.

Portrait of Serge Poliakoff by Denise Colomb, 1954
© Ministère de la Culture - Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine © RMN-Grand Palais / Denise Colomb
Portrait of Serge Poliakoff by Denise Colomb, 1954 © Ministère de la Culture - Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine © RMN-Grand Palais / Denise Colomb

A few years later he once again traveled to Paris. Poliakoff’s second time 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 artist Wassily Kandinsky. Further inspiration was drawn from the artist couple 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. During the late 1940s Poliakoff also 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.

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 characterised by his use of earthy colours such as shades of brown and grey. However, in the late 1940s and 1950s the palette changed and became brighter and more contrasting. The painting included in this sale is a striking composition composed by fields in different shades of blue, red, yellow, white and pink. These characteristic interlocking jigsaw arrangements was a style he returned to several times during the late 1950s and 1960s. Poliakoff himself declared, “The painting should be monumental, that is to say larger than its dimensions,” in his Cahier 1 of 1965. ”Composition abstraite” in this sale was executed in 1967, a vivid example of his later compositions painted in strong and light colours. The space, proportions and rhythm were the key elements in Poliakoff’s oeuvre and the gaze of the viewer is immediately drawn towards 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. 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.

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, Malmö konsthall in Sweden, 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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