Serge Polyakov is one of the best French abstract painters

Serge Polyakov, Composition

One of the best French abstract painters of the post-war period

Serge Polyakov (born January 8, 1900 – died October 12, 1969) is a famous French painter and graphic artist of Russian origin, who became an important representative of the Paris school that emerged in the post-war years. Serge Polyakov’s work belongs to Tashism, a trend of Western European abstractionism that was popular from the 1940s to the 1960s. The paintings of this author are pictorial spots cut off from real images, born from the subconscious of the artist.

Serge Polyakov was born in 1900 in Moscow, before emigration his name was Sergei Georgievich. He was the thirteenth of fourteen children in the family of a horse breeder of Kyrgyz blood. Mother came from a family of landowners, taught children music and regularly took them to church, where the future artist was impressed by Orthodox icons. Before the revolution, he managed to study for some time at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

Composition multicolore à dominante bleue
Composition multicolore à dominante bleue

Biography of Serge Polyakov

Serge Polyakov went into exile with his aunt’s family, who was a famous performer of romances. By the age of 18, her nephew could already accompany her on a professional level. Subsequently, music remained his additional income until the age of 55. First, the family performed in Tiflis, then moved to Constantinople, Sofia, Vienna, Berlin, and finally, by 1923, arrived in Paris. According to Polyakov, he immediately felt at home there.

The talent of the guitarist brought in sufficient income, and the evening cabaret performances left free time during the day. Polyakov began to study painting, first at the Froshaut Academy in Montmartre, then at Grand-Chaumiere in Montparnasse. Until the early 1930s, he painted in an academic manner. Everything changed after a trip to London, where the artist lived in 1933-1937. He attended art school and viewed the ancient Egyptian art on display in the British Museum, which had a significant impact on him. Having studied the bright and seemingly luminous Egyptian paintings, he decided not to mix paints, but to apply them in thin layers. This set his work apart from other contemporary artists.

Composition bleue, jaune et grise
Composition bleue, jaune et grise

Soon after this, an important acquaintance for the young artist with Wassily Kandinsky took place, and Polyakov completely switched to abstract painting. True, he considered Kandinsky’s concept overly complicated and preferred the approach of Robert Delaunay, from whom he took lessons for some time. Gradually, the artist developed his own recognizable style. He created several large color zones on canvas with softly curved contours, painted in contrasting and predominantly warm shades.

Composition grise, rouge et jaune
Composition grise, rouge et jaune

Serge Polyakov’s painting was a noticeable success.

His first personal exhibition was held in 1937, the second, much larger one, in 1945. In between, he regularly exhibited at the Salon of the Independent. He is one of the most famous authors who formed the new Paris School after World War II. In 1947, the artist received the prestigious Kandinsky Prize. 1962, a hall was allocated for his work at the Venice Biennale.

In addition to painting and music, Serge Polyakov showed himself in other areas: he worked with ceramics at the Sevres Porcelain Manufactory, staged a ballet with choreographer Roland Petit, and Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent released a collection of dresses based on his paintings. Prestigious exhibitions of this author were held all over the world both during his lifetime and after his death – the artist died on October 12, 1969. In our time, his work remains just as popular: in 2018, the painting “Red-blue-yellow composition” went under the hammer at Christie’s for $ 1,100,000. The most significant collections of the abstractionist are kept in the museums of modern art in Paris and New York.

Composition, 1966
Composition, 1966

Serge Polyakov was married to an English girl Marseille, who met him after one of the performances. Their son Alexis, at the age of nine, won a bicycle in a creative competition, and when he grew up, he became a producer and director. The artist’s granddaughter Marie-Victoire runs an art gallery. In 2011, her book-album was published, dedicated to the famous grandfather.

Serge Polyakov, Serge Polyakov. Photo-portrait of the artist
Serge Polyakov. Photo-portrait of the artist
The most famous paintings by Serge Polyakov

Serge Polyakov’s paintings resemble a colorful mosaic. The artist put color at the forefront and over time began to mix pigments on his own, abandoning the ready-made paints on sale. Here are some of his most characteristic works:

  1. “Abstract Composition” (1950). In the late 1940s, Polyakov’s painting began to be called lyrical abstraction and compared with poetry – it is so expressive and meditative.
  2. “Blue composition with a circle” (1955). This example shows how skillfully the author selects shades within one tonality. He often applied the same color in multiple layers, giving the image depth.
  3. “Abstract Composition” (1962). The ill-wishers reproached the artist for the fact that all his works are similar to each other – like collages of color spots. He also saw the power of his method in creating living pictures from colored blocks, similar to music.
  4. “Abstract Composition” (1968). The author called the later works “silent pictures”, since they do not need to be explained and described. It is enough to look at them in silence.
Serge Polyakov, Orange and Blue, 1951
Orange and Blue, 1951
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