Pierre SOULAGES, Painting, 195 x 130 cm, 6 August 1956 Enlarge 1 /1

On display on Level 2


France born 1919

Painting, 195 x 130 cm, 6 August 1956 1956 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated l.r., oil, "SOULAGES 56"
Dimensions: 195.0 h x 130.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1979
Accession No: NGA 79.2266
Image rights: © Pierre Soulages/ADAGP. Licensed by Viscopy
  • the artist;
  • from whom bought through Eddy Batache, Paris, by the Australian National Gallery, September 1979

Since the early 1950s Soulages has designated the titles of his paintings simply by the date of their completion. Hence this painting was finished on 6 August 1956. He has since added to this title the basic description 'Peinture' (Painting) and the size of the painting, applying these details retrospectively as well as to current work. The unadorned catalogue details that compose the title Painting, 195 x 130 cm, 6 august 1956 reflect Soulages' concern that his paintings be regarded as objects first: 'I didn't understand the so-called "non figurative" artists', he said in an interview in 1991, 'painters who gave their pictures titles, and usually incomprehensible or pseudo-philosophical titles. By doing that, they forced people to see allusions or riddles in their paintings.'1

Of Painting, 195 x 130 cm, 6 August 1956, and the Australian National Gallery's later work, Painting, 222.0 x 175.0 cm, 23 July 1979. Soulages has written:

Painting, 195 x 130 cm, 6 August 1956 is entirely painted in one colour — black. The tonal variation in the surface depends on the degree of opacity or transparency of the black. It is the contrast between the transparency and opacity which create the effect of illumination (an illumination which has a particular character, a particular sense).

I was already using this technique before 1956, but more often I left areas of the white canvas exposed. Paintings where the white support has completely disappeared are less frequent, and it is these that I now find most interesting for they are close to my current work, which began in 1979. These recent paintings are also totally covered by the same colour — black. One of these paintings is in the collection of the Australian National Gallery [Painting, 222.0 x 175.0 cm, 23 July 1979]

In these last paintings it is no longer a question of the transparency of a colour being opposed to its opacity, but simply different textures of the same colour, black, smooth or striated, which holding or reflecting the light … generate greys, or blacks, or deep blacks which change under one's gaze, but are always controlled by the surface organization of the painting.2

Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.286.

  1. Philippe Dagen, 'Pierre Soulages — The Solitary Going his Own Way', Guardian Weekly, 22 September 1991, p.16.
  2. Pierre Soulages, correspondence with the Gallery, 27 August 1987: 'La "Peinture, 195 x 130 cm, 6 Aout 1956" est peinte avec une seule couleur, le noir. Les différences de valeur de ces surfaces noires proviennent de leur plus ou moins grande opacité, de leur plus ou moins grande transparence. C'est du contraste entre cette transparence et cette opacité que naît la lumière du tableau. (Lumière qui a un caractère, une nature particulière.) J'avais déja employé cette technique avant 1956, mais le plus souvent en laissant à découvert des fragments de la surface blanche de la toile. Les peintures où le fond blanc a complétement disparu sont peu nombreuses, et c'est dans ces dernières que je trouve maintenant le plus d'intérêt, j'y recontre des préoccupations toutes proches de ma peinture actuelle, celle qui a commencé en 1979: ces tableaux sont aussi recouverts en totalité par la même couleur noire. L'une d'entre elles se trouve dans la collection de l'Australian National Gallery (222 x 175 cm, 23 Juillet 1979)… Dans ces dernières peintures ce n'est plus la transparence de la couleur opposée à son opacité, mais uniquement les différentes textures de la même couleur noire, lisses ou fibreuses, qui, captant ou reflétant la lumière, suivant la direction des traces peintes, font naitre des gris, des noirs colorées, des noirs profonds qui changent sous le regard, mais toujours dans 'lorganisation qui est celle de la surface de la peinture.'

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

For the French painter Pierre Soulages, black reflects his desire to rid painting of all unnecessary distractions. Since the 1940s, Soulages has produced black paintings, using clearly defined black brushstrokes that contrast with the whiteness of canvas and also by covering completely the support with thick black paint. For Soulages, black returns art and our experience to their most basic states. Referring to the charcoal used to make marks in caves, Soulages reminds us that ‘black is the colour of the origin of painting - and our own origin’, noting that before each of us was born ‘we were in the dark’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra