6 Things to Know About Sam Francis on His Birthday

"The hottest American painter in Paris" would have been 92.

Sam Francis in his studio.
Photo: via gkm.com

The American artist Sam Francis, who infused lyricism into Abstract Expressionism, was once called “the hottest American painter in Paris” in a 1956 Time Magazine article.

Today is the birthday of the posthumous painter and printmaker, who would have turned 92 years old.

Some facts about his life and work are below.

1. He was a pilot in the US Army Air Corps.

Having enrolled at University of California, Berkeley as a pre-med student, Francis was called to military service. After suffering a back injuring during a training mission in Colorado in 1943, he was hospitalized for several years. It was at this time that he began to paint to fill his time. Francis soon became captivated by the medium, and he eventually moved to Paris to pursue his passion.

Sam Francis in Santa Monica, 1986. Photo by Jerry Sohn.

Sam Francis in Santa Monica, 1986.
Photo by Jerry Sohn.

2. Between 1950 and 1958, Francis spent time in Paris, the south of France, Tokyo, Mexico City, Bern, and New York. 

From traveling around the world, he was most inspired by Tachism, Asian culture, and Zen Buddhism.

3. He was married five times.

He was originally married to his high school sweetheart, Vera Miller from 1947 to 1952, then to painter Muriel Goodwin from 1955 to 1958, then to Japanese artist Teruko Yokoi, with whom he had a daughter, Kayo.

In 1966, Francis married Mako Idemitsu and had two sons, Osamu and Shingo Jules. His last wife was Margaret Smith, whom he married in 1985; they named their son Augustus.

Sam Francis, Middle Blue (1957). Photo: via artnet.com

Sam Francis, Middle Blue (1957). 
Photo: via artnet.com

4. His most expensive work at auction sold for over $6 million.

The six-foot-tall oil on canvas work, Middle Blue (1957), sold for $6,354,500 at Christie’s post-war and contemporary art evening sale in May 2010.

5. He started his own printmaking facility, called the Litho Shop, in 1970.

“This is an artist’s studio, and what we do is experimentation,” Sam Francis reportedly told Jacob Samuel, an employee at the Santa Monica, California, shop.

Sam Francis, Basel Mural I (1956–58). Photo: © 2011 The Sam Francis Foundation/Artists Rights Society Photo Credit: Kimberly Mackey.

Sam Francis, Basel Mural I (1956–58).
Photo: © 2011 The Sam Francis Foundation/Artists Rights Society
Photo Credit: Kimberly Mackey.

6. He painted three large murals for the Kunsthalle Basel.

The 1958 mural Basel Mural I, originally hung in the institution’s stairwell with two other companion pieces, Basel Mural II and III. In 1964, the three canvases were broken up, with Mural I donated to the Pasadena Art Museum, which is now the Norton Simon Museum. Currently, Mural I shares a room with fragments of Mural III (pieces of it were stretched into 4-foot-tall canvases, since it was damaged during shipping). Basel Mural II hangs in the collection of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum.


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