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Sam Francis


Samuel Lewis Francis, known as Sam Francis, was born in 1923 in the city of San Mateo, California. He spent a quiet childhood with his parents, both teachers. The young man studied medicine and psychology.

As a reservist, he became a United States Air Force pilot during the Second World War. It was during his training that he suffered from spinal tuberculosis, which affected his vertebrae. Immobilized and bedridden, he had to stay at the hospital for several years to recover from his illness. Samuel Lewis Francis received a box of paint, and following the advice of his doctors, to pass the time and avoid depression, he learned to draw. The young man, who wore a corset and whose gestures were limited, quickly turned to watercolour, a technique that promoted the spontaneity of the gesture. These first works are simple and mainly represent what he saw, the sky, the clouds, the light… He was quickly overcome by the pleasure of painting. Throughout his life, Sam Francis remained convinced of the therapeutic virtues of art. He claimed that his painting came from his illness:

“I left the hospital through my painting (…) it was because I was able to paint that I could heal myself.”

Finally up and out of the hospital, Sam Francis began studying art in Berkeley, California between 1948 and 1950. He attended classes by Clyfford Still.

After this first encounter with abstract art, the painter moved to Paris; between 1950 and 1961, he worked in the capital and in the south of France. The end of this decade was marked by many periods of work abroad (Mexico City, New York, Bern, Tokyo), as well as large exhibitions. Sam Francis, supported by Matisse’s grandson Claude Duthuit and the art critic Michel Tapié, was offered his first solo exhibition in Paris (Galerie Nina Dausset) in 1952.

Between 1955 and 1975, Sam Francis exhibited around the world in major international galleries and museums: Paris, Seattle, New York, London, Tokyo, San Francisco, Basel, Los Angeles, Houston… Between 1973 and 1974, the artist lived and worked in Tokyo where he exhibited twice: at the Idemitsu Art Museum and at the Minami Gallery.

From 1975 he had successive solo exhibitions in Paris, New York, Chicago, Berne, Los Angeles…

Sam Francis was an immensely influential artist. He was the first painter after the American war whose work became known internationally. The artist died on November 4th, 1994, in Santa Monica.

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Sam Francis presents an exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, circa 1970. Photo Arthur Swoger

“When I manipulate color, something starts to happen and I get ideas. Sometimes these ideas are very fleeting. They come graphically. Sometimes the only way to grasp them is with a brush and color. I use a comparison: it’s like diving into a very deep water and it’s very, very cold and you have maybe fifty seconds to go to the bottom and come back up... So, there is a time when, to catch the idea, you have to work fast, without thinking.”

Sam Francis


Sam Francis

Untitled SF75-601, 1975
Acrylic on rice paper
181,6 x 92,4 cm

Sam Francis, Untitled


Sam Francis, Untitled


Sam Francis

Untitled, 1951
Gouache on paper
33,5 x 23 cm | 13 1/4 x 9 in.

Sam Francis, Untitled



Art Fairs




Americans in Paris | Artists Working in Postwar France, 1946–1962

March 2nd - July 20th, 2024

Grey Art Museum, NYU

Following World War II, hundreds of artists from the United States flocked to the City of Light, which for centuries had been heralded as an artistic mecca and international cultural capital. “Americans in Paris” explores a vibrant community of expatriates who lived in France for a year or more during the period from 1946 to […]

Americans in Paris | Artists Working in Postwar France, 1946–1962

Sam Francis, « In Lovely Blueness »

September 12th 2023

Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris

Echoing Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, on September 12, 2023, the Musée de l’Orangerie presented Sam Francis’ very large-format In Lovely Blueness, on a three-year loan from the Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle, to which it had been donated in 1977 by the Scaler Foundation with contributions from Éric and Sylvie Boissonnas. […]

Sam Francis, « In Lovely Blueness »

At the heart of Abstraction Works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art

July 2 - November 22, 2022

Fondation Maeght

The exhibition at the Fondation Maeght will show works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art from the 2nd of July until the 20th of November 2022 and offers an immersion in the vibrant creation of the years 1945 to 1980. Home to a collection of more than 13,000 works, Fondation Maeght is […]

At the heart of Abstraction Works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art

Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis

Published by UC Press in October 2021

Gabrielle Selz

A revelatory and groundbreaking biography of Sam Francis, one of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists, and the American painter who brought the vocabulary of abstract expressionism to Paris. Drawing on exclusive interviews and private correspondence, Gabrielle Selz traces the extraordinary life of this complex and charismatic artist who first learned to paint as a former […]

Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis


May 19- July 18, 2021 | August 6 - October 31, 2021

Musée d'arts de Nantes | Musée Fabre Montpellier

The exhibition United States of Abstraction. American Artists in France, 1946-1964 explores the intense presence of American artists and how they helped redefine abstract art in France at a time when the global geography of art was in upheaval. It is generally considered that Paris lost its status as the art capital of the world […]


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