Pierre Soulages

Biography of Pierre Soulages

A major figure in the postwar abstract movement, Pierre Soulages was known for the uncompromising nature of many of his artworks, and his persistent exploration into the color black.


Born in Aveyron, France in 1919, Pierre Soulages first became fascinated in art after seeing Celtic carvings in a local museum. He knew he wanted to be an artist from an early age, and after seeing a Modernist exhibition at the Louvre he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts.


Despite serving briefly during World War II, Pierre Soulages managed to keep a low-profile during the German occupation of France. After the war he set up a studio in Paris and by 1947 he held his first solo exhibition at the Salon des SurIndépendants. By now fully-immersed in abstraction, he also began designing stage sets and costumes for theatre and ballet productions. Having used walnut stain in his gestural painting, he became by the 1950s, a devotee of oil on canvas.


By now his reputation was growing considerably and he was selling work to prominent institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Unlike many artists of his generation, his use of the color black was in stark contrast to the vividly colored work of many French painters. Black paint fascinated him, but it was not the medium itself, but the “light reflected from the black” that interested him. He titled his practice as being “Outrenoir”, which loosely translates as meaning “beyond black”. Typically, Pierre Soulages applies the paint thickly and uses spoons to etch out movement and alter the texture of the paint—this is then capable of either reflecting or absorbing light.


In 2014, François Hollande, the then French President, hailed Pierre Soulages as the world’s greatest living painter. He has been involved in a vast array of international shows and has the honor of being the first living artist to have exhibited at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg in 2001. He has had solo exhibitions at Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Essl Museum in Austria, and the Museo de Arte Moderna in Mexico City, among others.


Pierre Soulages was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was awarded the Praemium Imperiale award for lifetime achievement by the Japan Art Association. In 2014 the Musée Soulages opened in Rodez, France, and houses the bulk of his stunning artworks.

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