‘My goal is twofold: first of all, to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilization; secondly, to register the trace of fire which has engendered this very same civilization. And this because the void has always been my constant preoccupation; and I hold that in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man, fires are burning’ (Y. Klein, ‘Chelsea Hotel Manifesto’ in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, Putnam 2007, pp. 195-196).
‘My paintings... are the ashes of my art’ (Y. Klein, ‘The Monochrome Adventure’ in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, Putnam 2007, p. 143)
‘Always treading the fine line separating the sublime from the absurd, Klein pushed his ideas to their utmost extreme with a fierce determination. Conceptual art was still in its infancy when he clearly formulated the notion of immaterial works, exhibiting the Void and selling zones of empty space previously impregnated with his own sensibility. This was in 1958’ (D. de Menil, ‘About Yves Klein’, quoted in Yves Klein 1928–1962, A Retrospective, exh. cat., Rice Museum, Houston, 1982, p. 7).
‘Yves chooses madder rose… Having thus acquired the third element, Yves Klein, can, from now on, present the cosmological trilogy of personal transmutation of colours: ultramarine-blue IKB, gold, and pink… The transfer to monopink in the monochrome trilogy is revealing. Madder rose represents the Holy Spirit before the gold of the Father and the blue of the Son; gold for immateriality and blue for sensibility’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, New York, 2005, pp. 24-26).
‘To seize the fresh colour before it trickles completely over the surface, manipulation of it must be extremely rapid. Instead of maintaining the burner in a fixed position, which creates the classic halo, Yves operated the injection pipe by moving it very quickly from bottom to top, from left to right and vice versa. These vertical and horizontal jerks allowed him to take advantage of the flame’s backlashes’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Putnam 2005, p. 55).
‘The baroque vision marks the apocalyptic conclusion of the line of fire. With the approach of his death, Yves the Monochrome exorcises infernal reality in the many-colored effervescence of the fiery language’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Putnam 2005, p. 56).
‘If all that changes slowly may be explained by life, all that changes quickly is explained by fire. Fire is the ultra-living element. It is intimate and universal. It lives in our heart’ (G. Bachelard, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Ostfildern, 1994, p. 227).
‘I made the flames lick the surface of the painting in such a way that it recorded the spontaneous traces of the fire... but what provokes my search for the trace of fire, why should I search for the Trace itself? Because every work of creation, regardless of its cosmic order, is the representation of a pure phenomenology – All that is phenomena manifests itself. This manifestation is always distinct from form and is the essence of the immediate, the trace of the Immediate’ (Y. Klein, ‘Chelsea Hotel Manifesto’, in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 197).
Peinture de feu couleur sans titre, (FC 27) – originally part of the collection of François de Menil, the son of legendary collectors Dominique and Jean de Menil, who were instrumental in the exhibition of Yves Klein’s work to a wide audience – is a dazzling masterpiece from the consummate series of Peintures de feu couleur, or fire colour paintings, made by Klein in the final year of his life. Symbolising the synthesis of Klein’s diverse, transcendent and highly influential oeuvre, this work is an extremely rare example of Klein’s Peintures de feu couleur executed with such monumental dimensions and which features the triumphant combustion of the artist’s unique triumvirate of colour - International Klein Blue (IKB), gold and pink – over the flame-licked surface of the board. As such, FC 27 is the most extraordinary of an influential body of work by Klein, several smaller iterations of which are held in international museum collections, including FC 32 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and FC 17 (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk). Hovering between the realms of the material and immaterial, in FC 27 nebulous formations in vivid IKB and rose pink are propelled upwards over the surface of the board, alchemically producing a surface of Baroque grandeur activated by the dramatic collision of opposing elements. Representing each colour of Klein’s spiritual triad with brilliant intensity, the individual pigments coalesce in a phantasmagoria of ethereal hues, from speckled flecks of deepest blue to pools of prismatic violet. Fused together with bursts of wild fire, torrents of sumptuous rose pink and ultramarine blue generate fantastical golden formations over the iridescent painted surface of the flame-treated board. Presenting an unparalleled landscape of otherworldly beauty, Klein draws his viewer into the shimmering realm of the immaterial, demonstrating the elemental power of fire and the ascendancy of the void. At once generative and destructive, in the mystic energy of the Peintures de feu couleur the artist realised the final sublimation from material to spiritual, registering the physical trace of fire as a record of the immaterial concepts that drove Klein’s creative actions. Charged by an impossible cascade of ascendant rivulets, FC 27 represents the apotheosis of the artist’s lifelong ambition to become one with the immaterial Void.
With its burnished surface and dramatic, tenebrous composition, FC 27 is one of no more than a dozen of Yves Klein’s Peintures de feu couleur described by the artist’s friend and collaborator, the critic Pierre Restany, as the ‘baroque fire colour paintings’. Distinguished by their ‘gestural fury, the stridency of tones, their vital exuberance’, the ‘baroque’ works occupy a unique position within the series of Peintures de feu couleur that constitute the aesthetic culmination of Klein’s entire artistic practice (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, New York 2005, p. 55). Mirroring the baroque colour palette, through its brilliant gilded surface, the diffusion of IKB over the charred and blackened cardboard reflects the ornate gold, azurite and indigo chromatic scheme that dominated seventeenth century painting. The heightened tonality and luminescent quality of Klein’s renowned IKB and madder rose pigments is balanced by the third element in his trinity of colour: luxuriant gold. Reflecting the ornate palette and visual excess of Baroque painting during the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries, in FC 27 Klein’s diffusion of his spiritual concept of a blue-gold-pink spectrum under flame captures the theatre of Baroque subject matter. As Restany declared, ‘the baroque vision marks the apocalyptic conclusion of the line of fire. With the approach of his death, Yves the Monochrome exorcises infernal reality in the many-colored effervescence of the fiery language’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Putnam 2005, p. 56).
Thanks to his extraordinary creative output and visionary ingenuity, Yves Klein is widely recognised as the most influential artist to emerge out of France in the 1950s and 1960s, and a forerunner in the field of performance and conceptual art. Reflecting its central importance in Klein’s powerful oeuvre, FC 27 has been shown in several of the most important retrospectives of Klein’s work, at the Jewish Museum, New York, in 1967, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in 1969, and in the landmark 1982 touring exhibition, Yves Klein 1928-1962 at the Rice Museum, Houston, which subsequently travelled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Acquired directly from François de Menil by the present owner circa 1980, FC 27 was previously housed alongside some of Klein’s most venerated works: Archisponge (RE 11), 1960, Le Rose du Bleu, (RE 22), 1960, and Relief éponge or sans titre, (RE 47 II), 1961. This esteemed private collection paid tribute to Klein’s beloved chromatic triad, bringing together this pantheon of pink, blue and gold sponge reliefs in the climactic expression of FC 27’s masterful tripartite palette. Poetically combining Klein’s trilogy with the alchemical potency of fire, the work unites the full spectrum of Klein’s oeuvre within a single magnificent board.
MONOCHROME UND FEUER
The genesis of Yves Klein’s remarkable Peintures de feu couleur came via the artist’s first and only retrospective exhibition to take place during his lifetime. Held at the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, in early 1961, Yves Klein: Monochrome und Feuer (Monochrome and Fire) brought together Klein’s most important works to date in the full range of his triadic palette, arranged into sections that included a blue room, a gold room and a pink room into which were also set various works displaying the trinity of colour such as Ci-gît l’espace, (RP 3). This trilogy of colour, reiterated but also segregated through much of the exhibition, was ultimately unified by the inauguration of Klein’s fire sculptures, installed in the museum’s park. Comprised of a brilliant three metre high jet of burning blue flame, and a wall of Bunsen burners aligned in five rows of ten, which lit up in rosettes of aureate flares, the Fire Fountains and Wall of Fire were set alight on the opening night of the exhibition. Burning white hot, the blue flames of the fire turned golden with red sparks at the fringes, generating a burning, immaterial energy that symbolised the three-in-one unity of colour that Klein’s work inside the museum also articulated. ‘All three live in one and the same state’, Klein said of this union, ‘each impregnated in the other, all being perfectly independent one from the other’ (Y. Klein, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Stuttgart 1994, p. 194).
Recognising within the incandescence of flame the synthetic expression of his triadic colour spectrum, on his return to Paris Klein set about attempting to fix its material trace by capturing on card an imprint of the burning flame. It was this action that led, a few months later, to the creation of the first Peintures de feu couleur. By March 1961, Klein had perfected a technique of using sheets of highly compressed Swedish cardboard, a magnetised surface that provided a greater resistance to combustion. For the creation of these radical new works Klein had been allowed to use the testing centre of Gaz de France at Plaine Saint-Denis where he used the vast flames provided by the experimental laboratories’ giant coke gas burners to burn and transform the surface of these paintings. ‘I made the flames lick the surface of the painting in such a way that it recorded the spontaneous traces of the fire’, Klein recalled, ‘but what provokes my search for the trace of fire, why should I search for the Trace itself? Because every work of creation, regardless of its cosmic order, is the representation of a pure phenomenology – All that is phenomena manifests itself. This manifestation is always distinct from form and is the essence of the immediate, the trace of the Immediate’ (Y. Klein, ‘Chelsea Hotel Manifesto’, in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 197).
Treating the surface of the board with water Klein was able to create the distinctive pictorial effects that characterize his Peintures de feu couleur, those compositional voids and gravity-defying linear drippings that yield their vital otherworldly quality. The very particular morphology of FC 27 and the ‘baroque’ grouping is described in some detail by Pierre Restany: ‘To seize the fresh colour before it trickles completely over the surface, manipulation of it must be extremely rapid. Instead of maintaining the burner in a fixed position, which creates the classic halo, Yves operated the injection pipe by moving it very quickly from bottom to top, from left to right and vice versa. These vertical and horizontal jerks allowed him to take advantage of the flame’s backlashes’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Putnam 2005, p. 55). Poured over the board, the roaring burners stopped the flood of pigment in its tracks, its rapid evaporation leaving a network of fissures and fractures that capture the void in the diffusion of fiery energy into pure space. Giving material form to the omnipresence of an immaterial void marked by the primal and eternal force of a distinct energy, both vital and destructive, Klein stated, ‘My goal is twofold: first of all, to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilization; secondly, to register the trace of fire which has engendered this very same civilization. And this because the void has always been my constant preoccupation; and I hold that in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man, fires are burning’ (Y. Klein, ‘Chelsea Hotel Manifesto’ in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, Putnam 2007, pp. 195-196).
YVES KLEIN’S COLOUR TRINITY
FC 27 represents a signature example, not just of the Peintures de feu couleur series, but of the theosophical colour symbolism that came to dominate and distinguish so much of the work Yves Klein made during the last two years of his life. From the golden tomb-like Ci-gît l’espace, (RP 3), 1960, to the large multicoloured Shrouds, Anthropometries, fire sculptures and his climactic Peintures de feu couleur, almost all of Klein’s most important late works make explicit reference to this spiritual concept of a union between blue, pink and gold. Within fire, Klein discovered the sublimating catalyst of ‘immaterial’ blue, ‘immortal’ gold and ‘corporeal’ rose, each represented equally within the heart of the flame. FC 27 witnesses the coincidence of this holistic element with the liberation of pure colour sensibility in the diffusion of the sacred trilogy of colour, unifying his holy trinity at the heart of the Void.
Days before the end of the Krefeld retrospective Klein made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Rita in Cascia. There he presented his most revered icon, the patron Saint of the Impossible, a votive offering and a written prayer, an expression of his euphoria and deepest gratitude for the success of his exhibition at Krefeld. The ex-voto was a unique work Klein had made which took the form of a Perspex case containing the blue-red-gold colour trinity in the material form of powdered pigment and real gold leaf. For the religious Klein, the mystic trilogy of pink, blue and gold that he had identified burning at the heart of the flame held a joint significance, symbolic of both the holy Catholic trinity – in which madder rose represents the Holy Spirit before the gold of the Father and the blue of the Son – and an alchemical trinity, composed of the Sun, represented by gold, Water by blue, and Divine Blood by crimson, or pink. Created two years after Klein’s masterful sponge relief, Le Rose du bleu, (RE 22), 1960, the prevalence of rose in FC 27 reveals Klein’s overarching aim to unleash the spirit from the corporeal vessel via the transmission of a pure pictorial sensibility. Bringing together the primal element of fire with his spiritual trilogy, FC 27 represents the pinnacle of Klein’s journey towards sublimation.
THE RESONANCE OF A PERFORMANCE
Declaring himself to be a ‘painter of space’ and a pioneer of the void, Yves Klein’s pictures, like those of his Italian and American counterparts, Lucio Fontana and Jackson Pollock, were ultimately the product of gestural acts made in space and time rather than directly on the board. Where Fontana’s tagli and buchi had opened up the picture plane to the infinity of existing within and around the material structure of the painting itself, and Pollock’s fluid drips had effectively operated in and articulated the space above the board, the immaterial pictorial sensibility that radiated from Klein’s monochrome propositions and adoption of the elements as painterly medium created pictures that were a demonstrative material record of the essentially immaterial concepts, actions and gestures that had gone into their making.
Grounded in an aesthetic both markedly conceptual and physical, the Peintures de feu couleur are the resonance of a performance. Throughout his career, performance gained increasing importance, from his 1960 Leap into the void, to the theatrical display that accompanied his Anthropometries. This exhibitionism intensified with the inception of his Peintures de feu couleur. Described by Pierre Restany as ‘the first postmodern alchemist’, the choice of fire as medium marked the next stage in Klein’s blue revolution, representing the essential conceptual coalescence of the material and immaterial in an oeuvre committed to instilling the intangible into the corporeal’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Putnam 2005, p. 64). He once said, ‘My paintings are the ashes of my art’ (Y. Klein, ‘The Monochrome Adventure’ in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, Putnam 2007, p. 143). The real dwelling place of his art, he believed, like that of his true being or soul, lay within an immaterial domain of the spirit. The true nature of his art could only really be discerned, Klein insisted, within the fiery energy and action he put into his work and, in a wider and more profound sense, within the dedicated and often ritualistic manner in which he managed, organized and sought to live his entire life.
Peinture de feu couleur sans titre, (FC 27)
Please note that the correct provenance for this work is as follows:
Alexandre Iolas Gallery, New York.
François de Menil, New York.
Acquired from the above through James Mayor by the present owner.
THE PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Yves Klein , 1960s, Paintings, France, Post War
New York, The Jewish Museum, Yves Klein, 1967, p. 62 (illustrated, p. 57, with incorrect measurements and date).
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Yves Klein 1928-1962, 1969, p. 68.
Houston, Rice Museum, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, 1982, p. 346, no. 76 (illustrated in colour, p. 191, with incorrect dimensions and rotated 180°). This exhibition later travelled to Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou.
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
39¼ x 53¾in. (99.7 x 136.7cm.)
F. Pluchart, ‘Fire sermons’, in Art and Artists, no. 1, August 1966 (illustrated in colour, p. 27).
‘Yves Klein’, in Bijutsu Techo, November 1968, p. 16.
P. Wember, Yves Klein, Cologne 1969, no. FC 27 (illustrated, p. 136, with incorrect dimensions and rotated 180°).
‘Yves Klein 1928-1962’, in Bijutsu Techo no. 31/456, November 1979.
P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Putnam 2005, p. 56.
Alexandre Iolas Gallery, New York.
François de Menil, New York.
Acquired from the above through James Mayor by the present owner.
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