Fleury Logo

The A&R Fleury gallery is pleased to present Beyond Limits, an exhibition dedicated to two great masters of post-war abstraction, Sam Francis and Hans Hartung

Despite having briefly mingled with the same artists’ groups and galeries in Paris, these two painters have never met during their long and fruitful careers. For the first time, their artworks are presented side by side in an exhibition committed to showcasing their similarities. Looking closer, one can find that their ambitions, thematics and approach towards experimenting with materiality have an undeniable likeness.

Hans Hartung and Sam Francis chose to live in Paris — the cradle of the great artistic currents of the Avant-Garde. In the capital of «Art Informel», Hans Hartung asserted himself against the formalist pictorial traditions and naturally turned towards lyrical rather than geometrical abstraction. Sam Francis arrived in Paris in 1950 thanks to the G.I. Bill, a study grant which allowed him to travel to discover European painting.

Both artists met with their first success in Paris during the post-war years. Hans Hartung had an exhibition at the Lydia Conti gallery in 1947, one of the legendary venues of lyrical abstraction, finally receiving recognition. A few years later, in 1952, Sam Francis met with immediate and international acclaim following a first solo exhibition at the Nina Dausset gallery. Despite being well-known by the important figures of the School of Paris such as Michel Tapié or Paul Facchetti, and although they mingled with the same artists’ groups and galleries, these two great masters of post-war abstraction never had the opportunity to exhibit together.

Light, Colours, Action!



Hans Hartung and Sam Francis played with the contrasts of different pigments to bring out luminosity and intensity in their paintings. In Sam Francis’ work, the treatment of light can be compared to the technique of the great masters of Fauvist and Impressionist painting. He layered his bright colours and let the white of the background shine through to produce a clarity similar to that which can be found in the work of Matisse or Derain. Francis replicated this tradition on his own paintings in order to generate a luminosity that spreads over the entire surface. He also took pleasure in choosing his famous “pairs of opposites”, such as blue and orange or red and green. The artist liked the purity of the pigments which he juxtaposed to bring out the white — a colour he saw as noble. Without doubt he was inspired by the colorimetric discoveries of the previous century which proved that white light could be recomposed based on color theory (red, green, blue). Francis did not mix his paints, prefering to use pure colours which he diluted with water to create nuances. The purity brought out the superiority of the white colour.

In the 1960s, Hans Hartung developed his “grattage” technique and focusing on the luminosity that radiates from it. Unlike Sam Francis, who spread light over the entirety of his work, Hans Hartung preferred to create a duality of shadows and light by playing with colour contrasts. After layering muted colors on a lighter background, he then scratched the material to give an almost neon effect to his scrapings.

Hartung was undoubtedly influenced by the chiaroscuro of his photography — another reccurent practice of his.  He would purposefully take back-lit pictures that emphasised the luminous aspect of black-and-white photographs by means of strong contrasts. In the early 1960s era, Hartung began to incorporate new materials, such as vinyl paint and acrylic. Their shorter drying time emboldened Hartung to work even more quickly on the surface of his paintings. The chromatic strenght of his pigments is revealed thanks to the scratching of the darker layers, producing an additional effect of light and depth. Hans Hartung kept his movements sharp and precise to successfully create his splinters of light.

“[…] I always preferred colder colours: blue, very light turquoise green, lemon yellow, or a dark brown that is almost black or green. I find that the purer these cold colours are, the better we can breathe.”

Hans Hartung

An experimental and spiritual methodology


In the 1960s, Hartung had already begun to experiment with different tools altering their original uses. In the 1970s, as in previous decades, the artist in search of renewal, the artist continued to perfect his equipment, such as combs, metal rakes or the multi-headed paintbrushes, to better adapt them to his esthetic needs. The multi-headed paintbrush was specifically designed to create perfectly equidistant parallel lines, enabling the artist to produce multiple brushstrokes in one single dynamic movement. This new method of painting conferred an almost geometrical aspect to his work, which nevertheless retained its spontaneous and gestural dimension. On the contrary, the abrupt sequences of lines do lose none of their magnitude. In fact, the black brushstrokes on the bright underlying primary colours (red, blue, yellow) appear even bolder as a result.

In his numerous studies and works on paper, one can see the in-depth methodology used by Sam Francis in his search for new forms and techniques. As early as the 60s, he began to mix mediums with different drying times to give effects of expressive temporality. Each layer of paint constitutes a trace of a specific time. The use of acrylic and gouache paint is no coincidence. One might say that Francis worked with water as much as he did with paint. He used water to dilute his pigments and played around with the fluidity of this element, which enabled him to manipulate the paint. He experimented with transparency, layering and the reaction of mixed colours. Although he left his paints to react on their own, one cannot help but discern his deliberate and conscious gesture.

“When I handle colour, something starts to happen and I get ideas. Sometimes these ideas are very fleeting. They come in a graphic way.
Sometimes the only way to capture them is with a brush and colour.”

Sam Francis

The Last years


The painterly vocation evoked at the beginning of the catalogue is all the more obvious when looking at the works these artists produced towards the end of their careers. Hans Hartung and Sam Francis continued to paint until their very last days. It is surprising to note that these two artists chose to paint in such blazing and expressive ways as their lives were draing to a close.

In the monthsleading up to his death, Sam Francis was seized by a creative impulse, producing close to 152 works, all of which reflected his passion and perseverance, despite the loss of function in his right hand. He paints tirelessly in his studio in Santa Monica, arguably overcome by the desire to leave his trace on earth one last time. Sam Francis had previously mentioned that he identified with blank paper.

For Hartung, in his constant quest for innovation, the 1980s were devoted to experimentation aimed at making his canvases more “atmospheric and ethereal”. The spiritual quality of Hans Hartung’s work reached its pinnacle in this period, whilst retaining a bright and intense palette, thanks to his unconventional tools: olive or broom branches from his garden, in the early 80s, and the sulfate spraying machine or “airless” sprayer in the later years. He let chance and impulse guide his rapid movements with the help of a long flexible rod, equipped with an adjustable ink cartridge, to create effects of variations on the canvas. For Hartung, the speed of the movement “reveals the atmospheric and cosmic tensions, the energies and the waves which govern the universe.”


Sam Francis, Untitled


Hans Hartung, T1966-R29


Sam Francis

The Blue Between the Red and Green, 1960
Acrylic and gouache on paper
85,8 x 58,7 cm | 33 3/4 x 23 1/16 in

Sam Francis, Untitled


Hans Hartung, T1965-R16


Hans Hartung, T1975-K39


Sam Francis, SF75-004


Sam Francis

Untitled SF84-223, 1984
Acrylic on paper
94 x 181,6 cm | 37 x 71 7/16 inch

Sam Francis, SF73-645


Hans Hartung, T1989-R37




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 »

Receive news from the gallery

Sign up