It is rare for the Musée du Louvre to host an exhibition devoted to a single living artist. When it comes to the French sculptor, painter and engraver, Pierre Soulages, this exhibition at Paris’s Louvre Museum is a tribute to a living legend. He is the first artist to get a Musée du Louvre exhibition in his lifetime after Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. So this show holds a special significance for those on Louvre Museum private tours, as they can witness a historic event.
Soulages has seen several historical changes, he has met every French Republic president and will turn 100 this December. Georges Pompidou knighted Soulages, plus François Hollande gave him the nation’s highest decoration, “Legion of Honor”.
When conversing with Soulages in a meeting held after World War II, general Charles de Gaulle described French painting as “sick”. In military lingo, he replied to the general that rather than being sick, it was “under attack”, and that “we need to defend it.”
About Pierre Soulages, the Artist
Born in France’s Rodez city in 1929, Pierre Soulages is part of an elite generation of European artists that reinvented abstract-style painting after WW II. Like many of his contemporaries, Soulages initially tried to associate his work with the European avant-garde styles of the early 1900’s. That included a major break with representational art. After his first show in 1947, he used the black color, which for artists like him is a noncolor. The interest in this color and noncolor earned him the nickname “the Painter of Black”. It is the only color he uses to paint today.
In France, occupied by the Nazis during WW II, figurative bucolic landscape paintings were used as a tool to promote the ideals of these Germans. The conclusion of the world war offered the following generation of European painters, including Pierre Soulages, an invitation and black slate to try methods different from the traditional ones. He rejected paintings with representational style and thought up unique ways of producing abstract artworks.
Pierre Soulages enjoys how painting in the black color and making texture can produce various effects, depending upon the light. He blazed a trail to abstraction, and his selection of materials, like walnut stain and tar, serve as evidence of that. After the world war, getting walnut stain and tar was cheaper and easier compared to oil paint. He used household things, scrapers and squeegees, as well, in place of the traditional tools.
Soulages named several of his artworks after the method used, the day of execution, and dimensions. He does not wish anything to affect the audience’s innocent perception.
“A painting is an organized whole, an ensemble of forms (lines, colored surfaces) on which our interpretations emerge and fall apart.”
So wrote Soulages back in 1948. His dark canvas paintings were quickly appreciated the world over. In 1979, the artist started a fresh stage of work with an entirely new style, which he termed “outrenoir”, meaning “overblack” or “beyond black”.
Playing With the Natural Light
Many times in his career as a professional artist, Soulages has had to explain why he used the noncolor. He once said during a talk with the TV channel ARTE that, “I don’t paint with black, but with light.” It appears that black has appealed to him from a young age. A young Soulages painted an image with the black-color ink and oddly termed it a snowy painting of the landscape genre. When his older sister mocked him, Soulages replied he used black to just present the white in a better way to the audience.
Black played a part in his marriage as well. When Soulages tied the knot with Colette, he and she wore black at the midnight ceremony held in Sète’s Saint Louis church.
Art Show at the Musée du Louvre for Soulages’s 100th Birthday
Paris’s Musée du Louvre honors the artist with the exhibition named after him that will run through March 09, 2020. Masterful works by Paolo Ucello and Giotto were shifted to make space for Soulages’s black and white paintings.
Frequently, he spends time in his vast studio on painting even today. He walks many steps from his residence, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, to reach his studio situated downstairs. At age almost 100 years, Soulages finds that walk slightly tricky of late, but he tends to make it to there to paint. The spacious studio is an amazingly tidy one, with tools stored in a neat way and paintings hung on the walls.
He once told to French daily newspaper La Dépêche that, “Je me fous de ma mort, tant que mes toiles vivent.” This is to say, he does not bother about dying, provided that his painted works live on.