Serge Poliakoff (Russian/French, 1900-1969) Composition abstraite 1964

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Lot 8AR
Serge Poliakoff
(Russian/French, 1900-1969)
Composition abstraite

Sold for £ 387,062 (US$ 530,572) inc. premium
Serge Poliakoff (Russian/French, 1900-1969)
Composition abstraite

oil on canvas

130 by 162.2 cm.
51 3/16 by 63 7/8 in.

This work was executed in 1964.


  • Provenance
    Galerie Der Spiegel, Cologne
    Galerie de France, Paris
    Galeria São Mamede, Lisbon
    Galeria Alvarez, Porto
    Banco Pinto Magalhães, Porto (acquired from the above in 1973)
    União de Bancos Portugueses, Porto
    Banco Mello, Porto
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Cologne, Galerie Der Spiegel, Serge Poliakoff, 1964, no. 15
    Paris, Galerie de France, Serge Poliakoff, 1964-1965
    Caen, Théâtre et Maison de la Culture, Serge Poliakoff, 1968
    Lisbon, Galeria São Mamede, Poliakoff, 1972, n.p., no. 15, illustrated in colour
    Porto, Galeria Alvarez, Poliakoff, 1973, no. 13, illustrated in colour
    Lisbon, Sociedade Nacional de Belas-Artes; Vila Nova de Gaia, Casa-Museu Teixeira Lopes; Oeiras, Palácio do Egipto; Torres Vedras, Galeria Municipal de Torres Vedras, Abstração, 2010-2015, p. 75, illustrated in colour
    Cascais, Palácio Nacional da Cidadela, Cruzeiro Seixas – Sou um tipo que faz coisas, 2015-2016

    Alexis Poliakoff, Serge Poliakoff: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume IV, 1963-1965, Paris 2012, p. 136, no. 64-09, illustrated in colour

    Executed in 1964, Composition abstraite by Serge Poliakoff is an exemplary illustration of the artist's search for balance, harmony and monumentality of form in his iconic paintings. Intensely layered and fastidiously sculpted – building up granular surfaces of rich reds and muted blues over one another – Composition abstraite is a testament to Poliakoff's immense talent and underappreciation as a stalwart of European abstraction in the middle of the Twentieth Century.

    Magnificent in scale and aglow with the highly attractive, potent crimsons of Poliakoff's archetypal grouping of forms, the present work reaches its crescendo in an energetic compression of shapes that draws its centrifuge into a piercing vertical. Owing much to his Cubist forebears and challenging the hegemony of the New York school of abstract painters that included Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, Poliakoff's interlocking planes of colour were amongst the most novel aesthetic developments of the period, culminating in a true affirmation of his significance for European painting when he represented France at the Venice Biennale in 1962, the same year he was awarded French citizenship.

    A bridge between the Russian Suprematism of Kazimir Malevich and the European canon, Poliakoff is a pivotal artist of the Modernist period whose historic importance is assured, being held worldwide in museum collections that include the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate Gallery in London.

    Born in 1900 in Moscow, Poliakoff left Russia in 1917 following the Revolution, making his way across Europe before arriving in Paris in 1923. Quickly establishing his capability and skill as a painter, he studied at the Académie Forchot and the prestigious Académie de la Grande Chaumière. It was not until relocating to London in 1935 to study at the Slade School of Art, however, that Poliakoff truly discovered his fascination with geometric abstraction, owing much to the friendships he had formed with Robert and Sonia Delaunay, as well as Wassily Kandinsky, during this time.

    In the present work, the influence of these first-generation abstract painters breathes through the eloquent colours and crisp margins of his assemblage. A painting of gravitas and impact, Composition abstraite has the effect of an orchestral polyphony, matching major and minor keys in a bold symmetry of timbres; a musical harmony that can undoubtedly be further attributed to Poliakoff's consummate skill as a professional musician.

    Contrasting and complimenting expertly mixed hues in an irregular jigsaw of shapes, Poliakoff's quintessential style produced a harmonious dissonance that captured the spirit of new abstraction in Paris in the 1950s and 60s. Art critic Charles Estienne wrote of "the massive stillness [...] and radiance of Poliakoff's art," continuing, "who else today could achieve such simplicity in the domain of plastic abstraction? [...] In any case, Poliakoff, who is one of the best abstract painters of his generation, is also one of the few in his age group who is so indisputably a painter" (Charles Estienne in: Serge Poliakoff: Monograph, Gérard Durozoi, Paris 2005, p. 176).

    In Composition abstraite, the accomplished hand of a certified master of colour is palpably present. A painting of maturity and panache, Poliakoff divides the canvas precisely in two halves, demarcated by the vivid reds and lucent blues of the respective passages. Such an acrobatic feat of composition remains superbly understated in a painting where competing colours and tones are fused in a rhythmic balance of forms; an arrangement that would be impossible to unify were it not for the adept talent the artist has for marrying colour and composition.

    Widely exhibited and completely fresh to the market, this painting reveals Poliakoff's mastery of craft; synthesising the abstract formal underpinnings of Cubism and Suprematism that were so influential for the artist, with the brushwork and texture of an academy-trained virtuoso.
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