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A Soulages painting that belonged to Leopold Senghor is up for auction

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Remy de la Mauviniere/AP


A luminous painting by Pierre Soulages that once belonged to the poet and former president of Senegal Léopold Sédar Senghor will go on sale Saturday in Caen, according to the organizer Caen Enchères.

This oil on abstract canvas made up of large black lines, reminiscent of a kind of asymmetrical totem pole, on a yellow background almost golden, is estimated "from 800,000 to one million euros," said the auction house.

The work entitled "Painting 81 x 60 cm, December 3, 1956" had been acquired by Léopold Sédar Senghor that year during a visit to the artist's studio in Paris, recalls Caen Enchères. Soulages made a very similar one a month later, according to the same source.

Potential foreign buyers have already shown up from Switzerland and Germany, the auction house said at a press conference on Thursday.

The legatee of the work, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a friend of the sister of the wife of the poet who died in 2001. Disappeared in turn in 2019, Colette Senghor had bequeathed the painting to her sister who died a year later.

Hanging for a long time in Léopold Sédar Senghor's office in Verson, near Caen, where the couple lived from the 1980s onwards, the work is characteristic of the painter's work in the 1950s, before he switched to outrenoir, the universe imagined by Soulages in 1979 when he turned to complete black.

A friendship bound by a love for art

"One begins to find this very important work on the dark matter" sometimes thick, sometimes translucent, "in broad horizontal and vertical flat tints", and on the contrast with here "a very luminous background", explained to the AFP Me Solène Lainé, auctioneer.

"I also use tools that are not originally made for painting (...) scrapers, long blades of wood or leather" to "in a single gesture (...) spread a large surface," explained Pierre Soulages in a 1965 radio interview broadcast on France Culture in 2019.

That year a Soulages reached 9.6 million euros (including costs) at auction in Paris.

The former Senegalese president was a fervent admirer of the now 101-year-old painter, considered the greatest living French artist.

"The first time I saw a painting by Pierre Soulages it was a shock. I received in the pit of my stomach a blow that made me wobble, like the boxer who was hit and suddenly fell down," wrote the first African who became an academician in Lettres Nouvelles (1958).

"The paintings of Soulages always remind me of black African paintings, even sculptures," adds the bard of negritude, a movement for the defense of the cultural values of the black world that he invented with the West Indian Aimé Césaire.

In 1974, in a speech at the opening of a Soulages exhibition in Dakar, the Senegalese president praised his art, "brother of black African art not by imitation but by nature".

"Black has its light and its sweetness," the poet had stressed in 1960 in an article entitled "The poetry of Pierre Soulages". "For the negro-African painters of the tradition, it is the black which naturally expresses the life, while the white expresses Death", he added.