Chronology

The Life and Oeuvre of Sam Francis: Abridged Timeline with Selected Exhibitions

 

Sam Francis in San Mateo, California, 1925  
Sam Francis in San Mateo, California, 1925  

1923–1942

  • Samuel Lewis Francis is born on 25 June 1923 in San Mateo, California to Katherine Lewis Francis and Samuel Augustus Francis, Sr. His brother, George Conant Francis, is born in 1926.
  • Francis’s mother dies in Santa Monica, California, in 1935 when he is twelve. 
  • His father marries Virginia Petersen Walker when the artist is fifteen. 

1943–1946

  • Joins the Army Air Corps during World War II and trains to become a reconnaissance pilot––interrupting his studies as a pre-med student at the University of California, Berkeley. Francis however, is hospitalized for extended periods from 1943 to 1947, due to a progressing illness from spinal tuberculosis, and unable to continue flying or serve as a pilot for the military. Honorably discharged from the military in 1945. 
  • During his hospitalization begins painting while lying prone in a full body cast– first in Denver, Colorado, at Fitzsimmons Hospital, and later at Fort Miley Veterans Hospital in San Francisco (1945–47). Becomes friends with the painter and teacher David Park, who visits him in the hospital and exposes him to the concepts of being an artist. Through Park's efforts, Francis's work is included in the 1946 Art Association group show at the San Francisco Museum of Art. 
  Francis as an aviation cadet in Morton Air Academy yearbook, fall 1943.
  Francis as an aviation cadet in Morton Air Academy yearbook, fall 1943.

1947–1950

  • Released from the hospital in February 1947, but must wear a body brace for several years. Nevertheless, continues to paint and study in the San Francisco Bay Area and explores both figurative and abstract themes. Early artistic influences include Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.
  • Marries, Vera Miller, his high school girlfriend, in February 1947 (they divorce in 1952).
  • Returns to University of California, Berkeley, in the fall of 1947, changing his major to art. Receives his BA in 1949 and MA in 1950.
Francis's student identification card for the Atelier Fernand Léger, Paris, 1950–51.  
Francis's student identification card for the Atelier Fernand Léger, Paris, 1950–51.  

1950–1956

  • With the support of the GI Bill, moves to Paris in October 1950 and briefly attends the Atelier Fernand Léger. Lives and works primarily in Paris (at several studios including Rue de Tiphaine) and the south of France, for the next six years. 
  • In Paris, lives with California painter Muriel Goodwin, whom he marries in 1955 (they divorce in 1959).  
  • Influences on Francis's work include such French colorists as Pierre Bonnard, Matisse, and Claude Monet and it is championed by French art critics Michel Tapié and Georges Duthuit (Matisse's son-in-law).
  • Included in several important group exhibitions with Art Informel artists. First solo exhibition at Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris, in 1952; another at Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, in 1954 and 1956. First New York show at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1956; also a solo exhibition at Zoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle. A 1956 feature in Time magazine describes Francis as "the hottest American painter in Paris these days."
  • Included in seminal "Twelve Americans" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, organized by Dorothy Miller, in 1956.
  • Creates seemingly monochromatic works during this period loosely referred to as Cells and Clouds/Atmospheric Landscapes.

1957–1959

  • Travels extensively, with working periods in Bern, New York City, Mexico City, and Tokyo, while maintaining his studio in Arcueil district (until it is razed in 1983). Creates works with intense hues, often with large areas of white, sometimes described as Islands of Color or, Floating Land Masses.
  • In autumn 1957 paints a commissioned mural for the Ikebana Sogetsu School, Tokyo. Later works on Basel Mural triptych in Paris (1958) and Chase Manhattan Bank Mural in New York (1959). 
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Galerie Rive Droite, Paris; Martha Jackson Gallery, New York; Zoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle; Gimpel Fils, Ltd., London; Galerie Ad Libitum, Antwerp, Belgium; Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern, among others.
  • Included in “The New American Painting” group exhibition at MoMA, New York with portrait by Irving Penn for Vogue magazine featuring Francis with artists: William Baziotes, James Brooks, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Theodoros Stamos, Jack Tworkov.
  • Solo museum exhibitions in 1958 at Phillips Gallery, Washington, DC, and in 1959 at San Francisco Museum of Art (traveling to the Pasadena Art Museum and Seattle Art Museum.
  • Marries Japanese painter Teruko Yokoi; birth of their daughter and Francis’s first child, Kayo Andrea (1959) in New York.
 
Francis working on the Basel Mural triptych in the Arcueil studio, Paris, 1958. Photo by François René-Roland, Paris.  

1960–1966

  • Lives and works in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Bern, and California. While hospitalized for almost a year in Bern due to recurrence of tuberculosis completes over 500 small works on paper, including the Blue Balls series (1961). After hospitalization moves back to California, with working trips to New York and Tokyo, where he establishes a working studio. Paintings loosely grouped in series known as Blue Forms, Bright Rings, and early Edge works. 
  • Solo museum exhibitions in 1960 at Kunsthalle, Bern (traveling in modified form to Moderna Museet, Stockholm). Solo gallery shows at Martha Jackson Gallery, New York; Minami Gallery, Tokyo; Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern; Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris; Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, among others.
  • Purchases property (formerly owned by silent film actor, Charlie Chaplin) and designs new studio on West Channel Road, Santa Monica, which becomes his permanent home base until his death.
  • Included in 1964 exhibition “Documenta III,” Kassel, Germany, where Basel Mural Triptych is shown.
  • Divorce with Teruko Yokoi is finalized by 1966.
  • Creates environmental performance Sky Painting (1966) with helicopters flying over Tokyo Bay, Japan.
  • Marries Japanese filmmaker Mako Idemitsu in 1966, and their son (Francis’s second child, Osamu William) is born that year in Santa Monica.

1967–1969

  • Works and travels primarily between California, Japan, and Switzerland and focuses on the Edge/Sail paintings.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Minami Gallery, Tokyo; Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern; Galerie Benador, Zurich; Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York; Galerie Jean Fournier & Cie, Paris; André Emmerich Gallery, New York; among others.
  • Solo museum shows in 1967 at the San Francisco Museum of Art (traveling to Dickson Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles), and at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (traveling to University Art Museum, Berkeley) In 1968 at Kunsthalle Basel (traveling to Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, West Germany; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam) and at Centre National d’ Art Contemporain, Paris.
  • Creates environmental performance Ski (Snow) Painting (1967) with skiers in Naibara, Japan
  • Receives honorary Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley (1968).
  • Birth of Francis’s third child, a son named Shingo Jules in Santa Monica (1969).
  • Begins work on mural-sized canvas, Berlin Red for the National Gallery of Art, West Berlin [currently in storage until new location is determined for installation].
 
  Minami Gallery exhibition at the Gutai Pinacotheca, Osaka, 1968

1970–1974

  • Maintains several studios in Southern California (Santa Monica and Venice) through 1994. Also lives and works for longer periods of time in Tokyo, with trips to Bern and Paris. Paintings series include Berlin Red/Berkeley and Fresh Air groupings in the early 1970s.
  • Establishes The Litho Shop, Inc. to print and publish his own limited edition prints. Also works at times with other print shops such as Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles.
  • Solo museum exhibitions in 1972 at Stanford University Museum, California, and at Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (traveling to: Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Texas; Oakland Museum of Art, California). In 1974 at Idemitsu Art Museum, Tokyo; Fundación Eugenio Mendoza, Caracas; Nagoya American Center, Nagoya, Japan.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles; Martha Jackson Gallery, New York; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; André Emmerich Gallery, New York; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Kornfeld and Klipstein, Bern; Gimpel Fils Gallery, London; Smith Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California; Robert Elkon Gallery, New York; among others.
 
  Francis in Akasaka studio, Tokyo, 1974

1975–1979

  • Sam Francis, the first major monograph on Francis and his work written by Peter Selz, is published by Harry N. Abrams, New York (1975), with revised edition in 1982.
  • Begins series of ongoing collaborations of monotypes with Garner Tullis.
  • Painting series include large-scale Grids/Matrix compositions and explorations of Jungian-and Zen-inspired archetypical imagery such as Mandalas, Circles, Crosses, and Stars, as well as Self-Portraits. 
  • Solo museum exhibitions in 1977 at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark (traveling in revised versions to Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm, Israel Museum, Jerusalem). In 1978 at Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles; in 1979 at Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (traveling in expanded version to five venues in Asia).
  • Solo gallery shows at Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; André Emmerich Gallery, New York; Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern (and Zurich); Minami Gallery, Tokyo; Robert Elkon Gallery, New York; among others.
Francis working in his Ashland studio, Santa Monica, 1978; photo by Meibao D. Nee.  
Francis working in his Ashland studio, Santa Monica, 1978. Photo by Meibao D. Nee.  

1980–1984

  • Continues to travel and work between studios in California, Japan, and Switzerland. Paintings explore free-flowing color compositions.
  • Solo museum exhibitions in 1980 Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; L’Abbaye de Sénanque, Centre International de Création Artistique, Gordes, France. In 1983 at Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence, France and at Victoria Regional Museum, Victoria, Texas (organized by Art Museum Association of America; traveling to 13 other venues).
  • Solo gallery shows at Riko Mizuno Gallery, Los Angeles; James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles; Smith Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California; André Emmerich Gallery, New York; Ace Gallery, Los Angeles; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Knoedler Gallery, London; Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; among others.
  • Elected to board of trustees (1980) as founding member of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
  • Divorce to Mako Idemitsu finale in 1982.
  • Establishes temporary painting studio in San Leandro, California, in 1981 to paint larger murals, including one for the San Francisco International Airport (1982).
  • Awarded the honor of “Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” from France (1983).
  • Develops the Lapis Press to publish original books by artists and writers.
 
Francis's Broadway studio, Santa Monica, 1983. Photo by Vera Isler-Leiner.  

1985–1989

  • Acquires additional working studios in Northern and Southern California (Palo Alto, 1985; Venice, 1987) as well as a residence in Paris, south of Montparnasse
    (1985). Continues to travel and work in the different studios, including Tokyo and Santa Monica, as well as spending time painting in Manchester, England (1989).
  • Marries English painter Margaret Smith in a Shinto ceremony in Tokyo (1985).
  • Solo museum exhibitions in 1985 at National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; in 1986 at Pavillon des Arts, Paris (traveling to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humblebaek, Denmark; Ogawa Art Foundation, Tokyo); in 1988 at Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan (traveling to Museum of Modern Art, Seibu Takanawa, Karuizawa; Museum of Modern Art, Shiga; Ohara Museum of Art; Murashiki, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo).
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; André Emmerich Gallery, New York; Knoedler Gallery, London; Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Delaive, Amsterdam; among others.
  • In 1986 completion of mural for the Wattis Rotunda San Francisco Museum of Art [no longer on view] and commissioned ceiling mural for the Opera National, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels, Belgium.
  • Birth of Francis’s fourth child, a son named Augustus James Joseph, in Santa Monica (1986). 
  • Acquires properties and rents studios in Northern California in Inverness and Point Reyes Station (1988–89).
  • Diagnosis of prostate cancer. 
 
  Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1991. Photo courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

1990–1994

  • Maintains working studios in Santa Monica, Venice, and Palo Alto, California, as well as Point Reyes Station.
  • Solo museum exhibitions in 1990 at Ogawa Art Foundation, Tokyo, and Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries (travels to University of Edinburgh); in 1991 at Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse-Labège, France; and in 1993 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, and retrospective at Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, Germany (1993).
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam; Heland Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm; Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles; Gagosian Gallery, New York; Kukje Gallery, Seoul, South Korea; Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles; among others.
  • The Prints of Sam Francis: A Catalogue Raisonné by Connie Lembark, is published by Hudson Hills Press (1992); and publication of Sam Francis: Monotypes by Daco-Verlag in 1994. 
  • Large-scaled painting, Dynamic Symmetry (1978), installed at the German Parliament building, Bonn (1993).
  • Donates ten paintings to Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, which are featured in special exhibition (1993).
  • Receives the Distinguished Alumnus Award from University of California, Berkeley, coinciding with solo exhibition at University Art Museum, Berkeley (1994).
  • On 4 November 1994 Sam Francis dies in Santa Monica from complications of prostate cancer and is buried in Northern California, near Point Reyes Station. He is survived by his wife, Margaret Smith, and his four children: Kayo, Osamu, Shingo, and Augustus; and three grandchildren Tai, Aisha, and Mawusi (Anela).
 
  1999 Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo by Brian Forrest, Santa Monica.

1995–1999

  • The Sam Francis Estate coordinates shows, with solo museum exhibitions in 1995 at Hammer Museum, University of California, Los Angeles; Kunstverein Ludwigsberg, Frankfurt (traveling to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; Städtische Kunstammlungen Chemnitz, Germany); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (where The Last Works studio was recreated); Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume Museum, Paris (reuniting the remaining Basel Mural panels); in 1996 at Sogetsu Art Museum, Tokyo; in 1997 at Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California (traveling in expanded version to Fundación Caja de Madrid, Spain); Museo d’Arte, Mendrisio, Swizerland; among others.
  • Selected solo gallery exhibitions at Smith Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California; Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam; Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills; Gallery Guy Pieters, Knokke, Belgium; Galerie Proarta, Zurich; Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, California; Galleri Faurschou, Copenhagen, Denmark; Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; Baukunst Galerie, Cologne; among others.
  • Major retrospective originates in 1999 at Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, and travels to Menil Collection, Houston, Texas; Konsthall Malmö, Sweden; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Galleria Communale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome. The Basel Mural Triptych is reunited in MOCA venue only, where Chase Manhattan Mural is also on view for part of the exhibition.

2000–2009

  • In 2000 Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo and Osaka, exhibits its Sam Francis collection (later traveling to six other museums in Japan). Other solo museum shows in 2000 at Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for the Arts, Stanford University; in 2002 at Las Vegas Art Museum in Nevada; in 2003 at Musée d’Art et d’histoire, Freiburg, Switzerland, and Santa Monica Community College, Santa Monica; in 2004 at Museum Jan van der Togt, Amstelveen, Netherlands; on 2005 at Ohara Museum, Kurashiki, Japan; in 2006 at Kunstmuseum, Bern (showing Francis’s work in relation to Bern artists); in 2009 at College of the Canyons Art Gallery, Santa Clarita, California.
  • Other museum shows at Kunstmuseum, Bern; College of the Canyons Art Gallery, Santa Clarita, California; Santa Monica Community College, Santa Monica; Museum Jan van der Togt, Amstelveen, Netherlands.
  • Selected solo gallery exhibitions at Galleri GKM Siwert Bergstrom, Malmö, Sweden; Richard Gray Gallery, New York and Chicago; Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam; Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art, New York; Galerie Guy Pieters, Saint-Paul de Vence, France; Galerie Proarta, Zurich; Brian Gross Gallery, San Francisco; Galerie Pudelko, Bonn; Galerie Thomas, Munich; Galerie Boisserée, Cologne; Galerie Iris Wazzau, Davos, Switzerland; Ace Gallery, Beverly Hills; Artemis Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York; Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, California; Broadbent Gallery/Robert Sandelson Galleries, London; Galerie Thomas, Munich; American Contemporary Art Gallery, Munich; Leslie Sacks Fine Art, Los Angeles; Kaare Berntsen, Oslo; Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles; Galleria Repetto, Acqui-Termi, Italy; L&M Arts, New York; Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London.
  • Sam Francis Estate begins transfer of documentary archives of the artist’s estate to the Getty Research Institute Library and Special Collections, Los Angeles. The Sam Francis Estate closes in 2009 and all assets and reproduction rights are transferred to the Sam Francis Foundation. 

2010–2014

 
  Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris exhibition flyer, 2010.
  • Solo museum exhibitions at Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, Bratislava, Slovak Republic; in 2013–14 at Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena and Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Galerie Delaive, Amsterdam; Helly Nahmad Gallery, New York; Galerie Koch, Hannover, Germany; Galerie Thomas Modern, Munich; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo; Page Gallery, Seoul; Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York; Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, California; Martin Lawrence Galleries, New York; S2 Gallery, Sotheby’s, New York; Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Galerie Iris Wazzau, Davos, Switzerland; Leslie Sacks Fine Art, Los Angeles.
  • First edition of the Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, edited by Debra Burchett-Lere with essay by William C. Agee; published by the University of California Press and the Sam Francis Foundation in 2011.

2015–CURRENT

  • Solo museum exhibitions at Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Bernard Jacobsen Gallery, London; Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Koch, Hannover, Germany; Samuel Vanhoegaerden Gallery, Knokke, Belgium, etc.
  • The Sam Francis Foundation continues organizing exhibitions, donating artworks to charitable institutions across the United States, and managing the documentary archives. The staff continues researching and providing educational data to the public that promotes knowledge about the art of Sam Francis. Projects include a variety of educational programs and outreach events with the goal of perpetuating the creativity legacy of the artist, including forthcoming exhibitions and book publications with the Getty Conservation Institute and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2019 and 2020, among other programs.