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Basel Mural III, Fragment 2, 1956-1958

Sam Francis

American, 1923-1994
oil on canvas
152-5/8 x 43-5/8 in. (388 cm x 111 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of the Sam Francis Foundation
P.2009.4.2
© Norton Simon Museum

On view

In 1956 California-born artist Sam Francis was commissioned to create three canvases for the Kunsthalle in Basel. After the Swiss museum declined to purchase the panels they were dispersed. The central panel, known as Basel Mural II, was sent to Amsterdam where it now resides at the Stedelijk Museum. Basel Mural I and III traveled to the United States, and at some time during their shipment and storage before 1967, they sustained water damage. Basel Mural I was treated and then donated by the artist to the Pasadena Art Museum that year (see Basel Mural I), but the third mural was deemed too difficult to repair. As a result, the artist decided to cut and re-stretch the portions that were undamaged. Two of the four panels salvaged by the artist were donated to the Norton Simon Museum by the Sam Francis Foundation in November 2009 (see also Basel Mural III, Fragment 1).

References to the sea and sun through radiant blues, oranges and yellows, coupled with the near translucent application of oil reminiscent of his career-long interest in watercolor, are prevalent in all three canvases. However, the less imposing size of the narrow panels encourages a closer examination of Francis’s artistic methods. Indeed, the incredible range of blues and whites are particularly apparent in these works. And while his handling of paint certainly recalls the gestural abstraction explored in the 1950s by American artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Francis’s brush instead appears more delicate, more nurturing, and ultimately secondary to the expressions of light and color that so interested him.

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