Spotlight: A Sprawling Retrospective of French Artist Pierre Soulages Opens in Cologne, Bringing Lesser-Known Gems to Light


What You Need to Know: Coinciding with the 185th anniversary of its founding, Galerie Boisserée in Cologne is presenting the largest retrospective of French artist Pierre Soulages’s graphic works to date in “Hommage to Pierre Soulages – Selected Works from the Graphic Oeuvre.” Soulages’s graphic oeuvre is comparatively small to the rest of his body of work, making the assembly of this wide-ranging and comprehensively representative exhibition all the more impressive—and reflects ten years of gallery efforts. On view through October 21, 2023, the show is comprised of aquatint etchings, lithographs, and silkscreen prints, exemplifying all the techniques Soulages utilized in his graphic oeuvre. It is an important moment as well as the artist only recently passed in 2022 at the age of 102, offering renewed insight and interest into this singular body of the artist’s work.

About the Artist: French artist Pierre Soulages (1919–2022) has been described as “the painter of black,” as his most recognizable work features thick, gestural black brushstrokes atop contrasting grounds. These brushstrokes, termed “outrenoir” or “beyond black,” first emerged in his work in the late 1940s, and ultimately became a signature of his practice. Working in Paris in the mid-20th century, he developed a personal style that paralleled the Abstract Expressionist movement that was then taking off in the United States. Among his many accomplishments, he was the first contemporary artist to be shown at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour; and has an eponymous museum dedicated to his work in Rodez, France, his hometown, to which he donated 500 works. Today, he is still considered one of the greatest French artists of all time, and his work is held in prestigious public and private institutions worldwide.

Why We Like It: Soulages was an inimitable force within the history and trajectory of 20th-century art, influencing the development of abstraction and expanding the boundaries of non-representational art. Despite being such a widely recognized figure, there are still facets of Soulages practice and oeuvre that are less well known—such as his graphic work presented in the current “Hommage to Soulages” exhibition at Galerie Boisserée. The long-term efforts of the gallery to collect an immense range of the artist’s graphic work offers an invaluable opportunity to discover this singular facet of his practice, as well as appreciate his overarching artistic endeavors. Soulages’s graphic pieces demonstrate an expansion and mastery of his hallmark brushwork, with the bands of color displaying the same sense of immediacy and movement as in his paintings—despite being works on paper. Further, they show in greater detail Soulages interest in color and its effects, with the various hues used in each piece showing a meticulous and ongoing experimentation with juxtaposition and contrast.

See featured works from the exhibition below.

Pierre Soulages, (1957). Courtesy of Galerie Boisserée, Cologne.

Pierre Soulages, (1969). Courtesy of Galerie Boisserée, Cologne.

Pierre Soulages, Sérigraphie No.8 (1978). Courtesy of Galerie Boisserée.

Pierre Soulages, (1979). Courtesy of Galerie Boisserée, Cologne.

Pierre Soulages, (2008). Courtesy of Galerie Boisserée, Cologne.


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