Pierre Soulages in 5 key points

Pierre Soulages, a titan of abstract art, has left an indelible mark on art history through his bold explorations of color, light, and texture. His monumental and expressive works transport viewers into a universe where matter and light merge to create a unique artistic experience.

1. Artist's biography, a life in painting

Pierre Soulages, born on December 24, 1919, in Rodez, is a major artist of the 20th century, renowned for his contributions to abstract art. From a young age, Soulages displayed a passionate interest in drawing and an insatiable curiosity about the natural world around him. His childhood, immersed in an ancestral environment, significantly influenced his art. Fascinated by archaeology, he develops a passion for the primal elements of ancient civilizations, immersing himself in ancestral myths and mysterious legends. This fascination is notably reflected in his admiration for the Menhir statues exhibited at the Fenaille Museum in Rodez, which contributes to nurturing his imagination and shaping his artistic sensitivity. In 1939, he was admitted to the School of Fine Arts but refused to join and returned to his hometown. During this time in Paris, he delved into the modern artistic world, visiting the Louvre and attending numerous exhibitions showcasing artists such as Cézanne and Picasso. These impactful experiences greatly influenced Soulages' artistic formation.

He began his artistic career in the 1940s, experimenting with material, light, and color. He thus developed a unique style that led him toward the Outrenoir, an artistic style shaped by the artist himself. In 1942, he married Colette Soulages, settled in the Parisian suburbs, and immersed himself in the world of abstraction, especially after meeting Sonia Delaunay. Pierre Soulages remained very discreet about his private life and descendants.

From the 1950s to the 1960s, he gained international recognition and exhibited his works in Europe and the United States. Over the years, he continued to experiment and push the boundaries of his art. His monumental paintings, characterized by powerful brushstrokes and deep textures, became emblematic of his style. Beyond his paintings, Soulages also explored other artistic mediums, including stained glass for the Conques Abbey, lithographs, and engravings. Throughout his life, Soulages remained a bold innovator in abstraction, exploring the limits of black and light. His work has left an indelible mark on contemporary art history, and he is now considered one of the greatest artists of the abstract movement.

Pierre Soulages passed away in Nîmes in October 2022, at the age of 102, leaving behind an immense artistic legacy.

2. Some emblematic works and series

Peinture, 23 mai 1953

© Tate Gallery

The work titled Peinture, 23 mai 1953 stems from a specific period in his artistic journey, a series he began in 1947. Beneath the depth of black, nuances of browns and whites emerge. Bold brushstrokes spread the black paint across a lighter background. This creation embodies his dynamic and gestural style, captivating with its glimpses of light and lighter tones. Acquired  around 1953 by the Tate Gallery in London, this painting exemplifies Soulages's international recognition. At the same time, another work from the same series was acquired by the Guggenheim in New York.

Peinture, 3 mai 1962

© Pierre Soulages

Through its contrasts of blues and blacks and its play on texture, this previously unseen painting by Pierre Soulages dating back to 1962 marks a significant step in the artist's journey. In the work Peinture, 3 mai 1962 the use of the color blue is quite intriguing; it accentuates and contrasts with the dominant darker tones of the piece.


© Centre Pompidou

Outrenoir is both the best-known series of works by Soulages and an artistic technique developed by Pierre Soulages. He began this series in 1979, painting his first canvas covered in black, which became the cornerstone of his work. This approach relies on the bold exploration of the color black and breaks away from traditional artistic conventions. In the Outrenoir works, Soulages doesn't merely paint in black; he studies how light reacts to this color on the canvas, transforming it into a dynamic element. He paints this series by experimenting with the texture, gesture,  and reflections of black paint to create surfaces rich in contrast, depth, and movement. Each canvas in this series embodies an immersive experience, inviting the viewer to delve into a world of deep emotions, in a captivating visual language.

Soulages at the Conques Abbey

© Turism Office Conques Marcillac

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Conques Abbey was built around 1041. Since 1994, it houses stained glass windows by Pierre Soulages. The abbey provides a majestic setting for Soulages' striking work. In this sacred place, light plays a crucial role in highlighting the depth and intensity of the Outrenoir. The immense windows created by the artist from 1987 to 1994 reveal a fusion between the secular  architecture and the modernity of his art. The lines and nuances seem to capture the very essence of light, offering a unique visual and emotional experience to visitors. The impact of this symbiosis between Soulages' contemporary vision and the ancient atmosphere of the abbey transports spectators on a timeless journey where mystery, emotion, and elegance blend. To create these stained glass windows, Soulages handled glass in a unique way, enhancing the spaces and colors of the abbey. In collaboration with glassmaker Jean-Dominique Fleury, he created a specific type of glass using aggregated glass crystals. This technique aims to optimize the diffusion of light throughout the abbey.

The Soulages Museum, a dive into the artist's universe

Inaugurated in 2014, the Soulages Museum is located in Rodez and showcases over 250 works of Soulages in a permanent exhibition. It stands as a true tribute to the exceptional work of the painter. Through its permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, the museum offers a captivating immersion into the universe and art of Soulages. The building itself is an architectural space designed by Catalan architects and is considered a work of art, with clean lines and a bold structure. It houses numerous and very famous paintings, shedding light on the diversity of Soulages' work over the decades. Indeed, the museum displays his first expressionist and figurative works up to his most emblematic canvases from the Outrenoir period. Visitors can thus appreciate the mastery of blacks, the gestural aspects, and the texture so characteristic of the artist. Within the Soulages Museum, temporary exhibitions also enrich each visit by offering different perspectives on the works and exploring lesser-known facets of his artistic career. The Soulages Museum is much more than just an exhibition space: it's a meeting point between art, architecture, and the history of an artist whose impact on contemporary art remains undeniable. Its location in the city of Rodez, Soulages' hometown, adds a particular dimension to this immersive artistic experience. The museum testifies to the ongoing modernity and relevance of Soulages in the contemporary art landscape.

Les Derniers Soulages 2010-2022, a remarkable exhibition, was unveiled at the Soulages Museum from June 2023 to January 2024, showcasing the latest creations of the master of Outrenoir. This exhibition served as a true homage to the artist, bringing together about forty works produced during his last years of creation. This event highlights the evolution of his work over recent years. The uniqueness of this exhibition lies in its interesting staging, allowing visitors to apprehend these works in all their materiality. Guided tours at the Soulages Museum enable spectators to fully experience the exhibit, wandering around the canvases, contemplating them from all angles, and admiring both their front and back, thus offering an immersive and comprehensive experience of Soulages' art.

Soulages’ position in the art market

Pierre Soulages is one of the most highly regarded contemporary French artists. He maintains a strong influence on the art market, with an annual sales turnover reaching 13 million euros in 2023(1). Recent auction sales confirm the sustained demand for his works. For instance, the piece Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 4 August 1961 was sold on November 17, 2021, at Sotheby's in New York for an impressive result of 20 million dollars. More recently, the work Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 2 May 1963 was auctioned on October 25, 2022, at Sotheby's in Paris for an amount of 5.9 million euros. These sales testify to the ongoing value of Soulages' creations on the international art market.

Direct purchase of a work by Soulages

Pierre Soulages' creations are a precious testament to the evolution of contemporary art and hold significant historical value, enjoying great international renown. Therefore, the value of these works often exceeds hundreds of millions of euros, requiring a substantial cash outlay from a collector.

Investing in a work by Soulages with Matis

Thanks to the co-investment solution offered by Matis, it is now possible to acquire a work by a renowned artist like Soulages from an investment perspective. This is an alternative method that opens up new horizons compared to more traditional practices. Indeed, Matis offers the opportunity to invest in prominent names in contemporary art—such as Basquiat, Warhol, or Kusama—through club deals, a form of crowdfunding that allows funds to be raised from multiple investors. For each created club deal, an investment vehicle is formed in which investors can purchase convertible bonds. The artwork is then entrusted to major galleries for resale. Once the artwork is sold, investors recover the amounts placed along with any profits made (not guaranteed).

Precautions before investing: past performances do not guarantee future results. Investment in unlisted assets carries a risk of partial or total loss of invested capital.

Source (1) Proprietary data by Matis

Cover image credit : love art gallery

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