Sam Francis

About the Artist

Sam Francis was an American abstract artist, best known for his bold use of color.

Sam Francis, 1968

Early Life and Education

Samuel Lewis Francis was born in San Mateo, California in 1923. His father was a mathematics professor, his mother was a pianist. Francis attended San Mateo High School.

He studied botany, medicine and psychology at the University of California at Berkeley. Francis joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, and was training to be a pilot, when a flying accident left him seriously injured, with recurring bouts of spinal tuberculosis throughout his life.

Sam Francis
Mural at Centre Pompidou, 1955-1957
Photo: Melina

Francis spent four years in the hospital after the accident. He began to paint while convalescing in the hospital in Denver. “Painting became a way back to life for me.” he said. “Now it is no longer that but a way of life. But in those four years on my back it was life itself. I painted to stay alive.”

Francis went on to study painting at the San Francisco Art Institute with American figurative painter, David Park, and then earned both a Bachelors and Masters degrees in Fine Arts and Art History from Berkeley.

Career and Personal Life

Francis spent much of the 1950s living and working in Paris. He was influenced by Jackson Pollack and other American Abstract Expressionists, and also by the works of Monet and Matisse.

He had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Nina Dausset in Paris in 1952, with much success, and his work was included in the 12 Americans exhibit at MoMA in 1956.

Francis spent time in Paris, the south of France, Tokyo, Mexico City, Bern and New York in the 1950s and his works were more popular in Europe and Japan than in the U.S.

In the 1960s, Francis returned to the U.S., and established the Litho Shop in Santa Monica in 1974.

Francis was married five times and was the father of four children. His fifth marriage was to painter, Margaret Smith. Their son, Augustus Francis is an artist who lives and works in the UK.

Sam Francis died in Santa Monica in 1994.


The works of Sam Francis are part of the permanent collections of museums around the world, including The Met, MoMA, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Idemitsu Museum of Arts in Tokyo, the Centre Pompidou-Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris, the Albertina Kunst Museum Palais in Vienna, the Tate London and other major museums around the world.

In 2016, Sam Francis’ Summer #1 painting, done in 1957, sold for $11,842,000, a new world record for the artist. The painting was acquired by collector Eli Broad, for inclusion in the permanent collection of the Broad Museum in Los Angeles.


2022-09-21T12:18:50-04:00 November 26th, 2021|

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