Pierre Soulages, French (1919 - )

Pierre Soulages

A painter, printmaker and sculptor, Soulages was born at Rodez, Aveyron in France. Influenced by the Celtic carvings in the local museum and by the Romanesque art and architecture of that region, he began to take an interest in art and began to paint. He went to Paris in 1938, where he saw the exhibitions of Picasso and Cézanne, and briefly studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

Soulages' early paintings were often of leaf-less trees in winter, with the black branches contrasting against the background sky. After returning back to his hometown after his brief stay in Paris, he met Sonia Delaunay, with whom he discovered abstract art. In 1946, he moved back to Paris and began to make his first non-figurative works in 1947. At this time he came in contact with other artists such as Picabia and Léger, and took part in the Salon des Superindépendants. His paintings were characterized by heavy, broad black gestures on a light ground. Often, he would let the tools dictate the aesthetic effect of his paintings, using a wide rubber spatula or roller brushes instead of the traditional paintbrush.

In 1949, at the Galerie Lydia Conti, Paris, Soulages had his first solo exhibition. In 1952, he made his first etchings. After 1955, he began to paint with even looser, slashing brushstrokes, sometimes with more fluid washes of color. Soulages also worked in other media, designing sets and costumes. In 1987 he designed the monumental tapestry for the French Finance Ministry. Soulages is considered the greatest French painter of his generation and has received recognition worldwide.

In 1979, Pierre Soulages was made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

From 1987 to 1994, he produced 104 stained glass windows for the Romanesque Abbey church Sainte-Foy in Conques (Aveyron, France).

Soulages is the first living artist invited to exhibit at the state Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg and later with the Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow (2001).

A composition he created in 1959 sold for 1.200.000 euros at Sotheby's in 2006.
In 2007, the Musée Fabre of Montpellier devoted an entire room to Soulages, presenting his donation to the city. This donation includes twenty paintings dating from 1951 to 2006, among which are major works from the 1960s, two large plus-black works from the 1970s, and several large polyptychs.

A retrospective of his art was held at the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou from October 2009 to March 2010. In 2010, the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico presented a retrospective of Soulages' paintings that also included an interview-video with the painter (Spanish subtitles).

1919 Pierre Soulages is born on December 24th, in Rodez, France. From an early age, he is interested in Romanesque and prehistoric art. He begins to paint in his remote native province, oblivious to the contemporary artistic tendencies.


At 18, he moves to Paris to prepare for the entrance examination at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. He passes but, convinced of the mediocrity of the teaching, returns immediately to Rodez. During this short stay in Paris he visits the Louvre and discovers Modern art through two important exhibitions of Cézanne and Picasso.


He is mobilized in 1940 and dismissed in 1941. As Paris is occupied, he moves to Montpellier where he regularly visits the Musée Fabre. In 1942, he escapes from mandatory work camps in Germany by becoming a wine maker.He stops painting during this period.


Pierre Soulages settles in Paris and dedicates himself full-time to painting. Soon, his abstract and dark works, so different from the semi-figurative and colorful art of the post-war years, receive notoriety.


He finds a studio in Paris, on rue Schoelcher, near Montparnasse. He participates in group exhibitions in Paris and in other European cities, including “Französische abstrakte Malerei” which travels to several German museums.He is by far the youngest member of the small group of abstract painters, that include the masters Kupka, Doméla,and Herbin. The poster of the group is illustrated by one of his black-and-white paintings.


First individual exhibition in Paris at the Galerie Lydia Conti, and several group shows in London, São Paulo,Copenhagen and New York. First stage settings for Roger Vaillant at the Théatre des Mathurins in Paris. From 1949 to 1952, he realizes three other stage designs for theatre and ballet.


First engravings in the studio Lacourière. Participates in several traveling group exhibitions in American museums, such as “Advancing French Art” (1951) and “Younger European Artists” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1953) and "The New Decade" at the Museum of Modern Art (1955). First one-person show in New York at Kootz Gallery (1954) where he exhibits regularly until 1966. During this time, his works are purchased by the Phillips Gallery, Washington; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris; the Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, etc. Today more than one-hundred and fifty of his paintings are part of museum collections.


First one-person show at La Galerie de France, Paris.



First retrospective exhibitions at the museums of Hanover, Essen, Zurich, The Hague.

Retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

1967 Retrospective exhibition at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

“Paintings since 1963”, Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. Retrospective exhibitions at the Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montréal; Musée du Québec, Québec. “Paintings in France”, National Gallery, Washington, DC.


Traveling retrospective exhibition at the Musée dynamique, Dakar; Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon; Salas del Patrimonio Artístico y Cultural, Madrid; Musée Fabre, Montpellier; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico; Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas; Museo Maracaibo, Fundaçao Cultural, Brasilia; Museu da Universidade, São Paulo; Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro; Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, Saint-Etienne.


Exhibition at the MNAM-Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, of his first monochromatic paintings, exploring the light reflected by the different textures of the black surface. This light emerging out of the difference between two kinds of dark surfaces contains a great power of emotion and possibilities of development. Later it will be named “noir-lumière” and “outrenoir”.

1984 Retrospective exhibition at the Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo.


Recent work shown at Musée Saint Pierre-Art Contemporain, Lyon; Hans-Thoma Gesellschaft, Reutlingen.


Retrospective exhibition, “40 years of painting” at Museum Fridericianum, Kassel; IVAM-Centro Julio González, Valencia; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes.

1991 “Soulages, Recent Paintings”, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna.


“Polyptyques 1979-1991”, Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou, Cajarc.


“A retrospective”, Musée National d'Art Contemporain, Seoul.

1994 “A retrospective”, China Fine Arts Palace (Meschuguan), Peking; Fine Arts Museum, Taipei. “Soulages Lebendiges Licht”, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster showing recent paintings of the artist alongwith projects for the stain glasses of the abbey of Conques.


Retrospective exhibition, “Soulages noir lumière” at the Musée d'Art Moderne Ville de Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal; Museu de Arte, São Paulo.


Pierre Soulages creates the one-hundred and four stained glass windows of the Romanesque abbey of Conques with the master glass artist Jean-Dominique Fleury.


Retrospective exhibition, “Soulages lob des Lichtes”, Kunstmuseum, Berne. “Œuvres 1994-1999”, Musée Fabre, Montpellier.



Retrospective, “Soulages 82 paintings”, M.A.C. les Abattoirs, Toulouse.

Retrospective, “Lumière du noir”, The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; Tretyakov Museum, Moscow.


“Soulages, l’œuvre imprimé”, Bibliothèque Nationale (site Tolbiac), Paris.

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