Serge Poliakoff

Biography of Serge Poliakoff

Russian emigrant Serge Poliakoff was one of the most significant of the abstract colorists who came to prominence after World War II. A leading light of the School of Paris group of artists, his irregular works were deftly technical and highly-decorative in their conception. Throughout his career, Poliakoff was concerned with the relationships between line and surface, form and content, color and light, balancing an array of forms in a concise energetic tension.


Fleeing Russia in 1917 after the revolution, Serge Poliakoff landed in Constantinople before moving on to Paris where he would reside for most of his life. Earning money through his innate ability as a musician, he performed regularly in Russian cabarets. The money he made paid for his education at the Parisian art schools Académie Frochot and Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Then on visiting London he enrolled in the Slade School of Art in London in 1935.


Having been rooted in the figurative, after the mid-1930s Serge Poliakoff’s work increasingly embraced abstraction. Wassily Kandinsky had a profound influence on the young artist, after he met him on his return to Paris. He quickly developed his own distinctive brand of abstract painting, positioning varied color fields beside each other. By the 1950s his somber tones had given way to increasingly simpler forms and vibrant tones.


In 1962, the year Serge Poliakoff became a French citizen, his reputation had grown to such an extent that an entire room at the Venice Biennale was used to exhibit his works. Later he returned to a more reduced palette, producing small format paintings and limited edition lithographs. His latter paintings, sometimes known as “silent paintings”, are remarkable for epitomizing a style of abstraction in which color is paramount. 


Controversy reigns as to Serge Poliakoff’s true birthdate but it is believed to be 1900. He died in Paris in 1969. His works are in the permanent collections of numerous museums in Europe and America. In 2006 Poliakoff works were exhibited at the Musée de Luxembourg for their exhibition “Lyric Flight, Paris 1945-1956.” In 2013 the exhibition “Le rêve des formes” opened at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. 

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