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Serge Poliakoff

Tachism, Abstraction,Gouache

(Moscou, 1900 – Paris, 1969)

Serge Poliakoff

Serge Poliakoff, born in Moscow in 1900, painted one of the most significant artworks of Abstraction and Modern Art. In his childhood, his mother brought him to church almost every day. Poliakoff admired icons, theirs colours and their juxtapositions of space. His mother also forces him to practice an instrument and Poliakoff, at the age of twelve, perfectly mastered the guitar.

In 1914, Poliakoff enters Moscow Drawing School. With the Russian Revolution in 1917, Poliakoff leaves Russia and arrives in Constantinople in 1920. Starts a period of recovered fullness, forgetting his Muscovites years. The future great painter plays in orchestra and earns his living as a guitarist. With his quartet, his travels Europe: Belgrade, Sofia, Vienna and Berlin. Poliakoff arrives in Paris in 1923. He starts to frequent the Russian artistic community and plays in Russian cabarets. Playing guitar to earn his living, Poliakoff starts to create abstract drawings, before deciding to dedicate himself entirely to painting in 1929. He attends the Academy de la Grande Chaumière where he learns drawing. In 1935, he joins the French Artists Society and participates in their Salons in the painting section.

In his Self-portrait of 1933, we can notice a technical savoir-faire and a certain liberty with hatching. At this time, Poliakoff principally uses Tempera that allows him varied effects and thus plays on opacity, transparency, and thickness, sometimes adding sand.

His paintings are still very academic, until his journey in London in 1935, where he discovers abstraction and lightness of colours. In London, Poliakoff continues his studies and regularly goes to British Museum where he discovers the colour superposition technic, used to paint Egyptian sarcophagus. He is interested in Primitive Flemish, Gauguin, Seurat, Cezanne, or more contemporary, in Paul Klee.

In 1937, he returns to Paris and starts his first researches on Abstraction. In this time, Poliakoff met Kandinsky who tells him his desire to internationally develop Abstraction. Poliakoff realises his first non-figurative paintings. In 1938, Poliakoff becomes friend with Robert and Sofia Delaunay, who introduce him Otto Freundlich.

At this time, his first abstract paintings are exhibited. The gallery Le Niveau organises a collective exhibition with works of Derain, Utrillo, Lhote, Kisling, Braque, Dufy and Vlaminck. His abstract painting don’t avoid him to realise figurative works, but his first abstract gouache of 1937 definitively creates a new painting conception.

After the war, Poliakoff progressively elaborates his art defined by colours and irregular forms. He is soon recognized as a major abstract painter of Ecole de Paris. The painter gives a singular and unique version of Abstraction, far from a strict geometry and gestural improvisation.

Poliakoff participates at the Salon des Independents in 1940 and 1941. Between the two Salons, we can notice an evolution and a technical change, from a thick material to a most largely treatment. In the second exhibited painting, the perspective disappears, and all elements are on the same plan.

In Paris, after-war years are favourable to art development and artistic manifestations. Poliakoff multiplies his presence in collective exhibitions and salons, showing abstraction. In 1946, he participates at the Salon des Surrindependents and shows a painting with a brilliant polychrome, recognized by critics. At this time, Poliakoff considers his painting still decorative. He attenuates his palette until nearly monochrome. Lines or a dominant shade animates his compositions. The following year, he receives the Kandinsky Prize that recompenses an abstract artist.

In 1948-1949, Poliakoff continues his technical and pictorial researches leading to “Absolute Silence”: the vertical line is moving and the horizontal line is traced on a demi-circular horizon. Even pushing on abstraction, nature isn’t forgoton in his painting: “Our eye is our judge, my master is the nature”. It always intervenes but as a foundation of a horizon perception.

Between 1946 and 1952, Poliakoff multiplies his plastic experimentations. The line underlines certain form with a discreet paintbrush. It is not the form that is coloured, but the colour which produces its own form. Poliakoff gives a new conception of nature. He affirms his singularity as a painter of the Ecole de Paris. His style gives him a growing reputation, especially with collective and personal exhibitions. He acquires a international reputation thanks to the art dealer Denise René who organises exhibitions in Europe. The gallery L’Esquisse organises a solo show that is a veritable revelation for public and critic.

In 1951, Poliakoff participates to exhibitions organised by the Royal Academy in London dedicated to Ecole de Paris.

In 1962, the Venice Biennale dedicates a entire room to his painting. In 1965 the fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent signs a Mondrian Dress and a Poliakoff Dress.

In 1970, the Museum of Modern Art in Paris organises a first exhibition to the abstract painter, and an important retrospective in 2013 with no less than 150 paintings made between 1946 and 1967.  


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