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Basel Mural I, 1956-58

Sam Francis

American, 1923-1994
Oil on canvas
151-3/4 x 237-3/8 in. (385.5 x 602.9 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of the Artist
P.1967.24
© Norton Simon Museum

On view

Born in northern California and a member of the Army Air Corps in World War II, Sam Francis first turned to art when convalescing from a serious spinal injury sustained in training. Bedridden for close to three years, Francis turned to watercolors as therapy before fully committing to painting around 1946, and the qualities of the aqueous medium would inform his painting—even in oil—for the entirety of his career. In 1950 he moved to Paris, his “mother city,” as he referred to it, and established himself as a leading painter of light and color.

While in Paris, Francis worked on a series of large murals, a tradition he viewed as different from painting and one that allowed for greater expanses of space and movement. A result of his new success in this large-scale format was a commission in late 1956 by Arnold Rüdlinger, director of the Basel Kunsthalle and an early champion of Francis’s art. The artist’s task was to paint three murals to be installed in the museum, where they were hung from 1958 to 1964. One of these three impressive canvases, Basel Mural I, was donated by the artist to the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1967. (see also Basel Mural III Fragment 1 and Fragment 2).

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