Born in Moscow, Serge Poliakoff left Russia in 1919
and settled in Paris in 1923. Known for his striking palette and bold
exploration of form, Poliakoff was a leading figure in the post-war abstract
movement in Europe. Poliakoff’s influence was far reaching: in his lifetime he
had work acquired by Greta Garbo, and inspired a collection by Yves Saint
In Paris in
1929, Poliakoff began studying painting while earning a living as a musician,
enrolling at the Académie Forchot and Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
Poliakoff studied at the Slade School of Art after relocating to London in
1935, and it was here that the artist discovered abstract painting, as well as
the importance of layering colour.
time, Poliakoff increasingly turned towards abstract art, employing colour as
colour without any figurative context. A decisive influence in this direction
was fellow Russian, Wassily Kandinsky, whom Poliakoff met after his return to
Paris. Sonia and Robert Delaunay taught Poliakoff to appreciate the emotive
potential of colour and awakened an interest in simultaneous contrasts. Another
important source of Poliakoff’s pictorial language was the sculptor Otto
Freundlich, with his curved colour-form compositions.
developed a very individual form of abstract painting, arranging different
fields of colour alongside one another. Shades of brown and grey were his
preferred colours during the 1940s, while from the 1950s he extended his
palette to include bright contrasting tones. In the early 1950s Poliakoff
stopped using outlines to juxtapose forms on canvas; only colour was left to
distinguish between them. Particularly concerned with giving the canvas an
animated sense of its own life, Poliakoff abandoned industrial paints to
instead pursue a painstaking process of grinding his own pigments. By the time of his final ‘forme unique’ oil paintings,
that Poliakoff conceived well into his sixties, colour itself became the
medium. Each depicting a single form, the late paintings burst against the
edges of the canvas with masterly control. “The painting should be monumental,
that is to say larger than its dimensions,” declared Serge Poliakoff
in his Cahier I of 1965.
work is included in significant collections throughout the world, including Tate,
UK; Stedelijk Museum, The Netherlands; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, USA; Museum of Modern Art, USA; Musée d’Art modern de la Ville de Paris,
France; Hirshhorn Museum, USA; Museum
Ludwig, Germany; Moderna Museet, Sweden; Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland; The
Art Institute of Chicago, USA; Fondation
Thyssen-Bornemisza, Spain; Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil; Museo
de Arte modern de la Ciudad Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Musée national d’Art
moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, France.
widely. From 1938 – 1945 he contributed to the Salon des Indépendants. On the
other hand, he was included in the most prestigious exhibitions of modern
post-war art, including Documenta II, Kassel, Germany (1959); and the Carnegie
International, Pittsburg, USA (1958).
A retrospective covering the years 1938 – 1963 was held at the Whitechapel
Gallery, London (1963). Following Poliakoff’s nationalisation in France in 1962
the artist received his own room at the Venice Biennale. Serge Poliakoff died
in Paris in 1969.