Description & Technical information

Throughout his career, Sam Szafran concentrated on a small range of subjects, notably views of the interior of his studio and of a staircase in an apartment building on the rue de Seine in Paris. Drawn in 1986 or 1987, this very large watercolour depicts another of the artist’s favourite subjects; the plants which filled his Parisian studio. For over fifty years, Szafran produced what he called ‘feuillages’, or studies of potted plants in interior spaces. As the artist’s friend James Lord has written of these ‘feuillages’ by Szafran, ‘Then there is a leap into the universe of vegetation. Plants. Infinite interstices of leaves in their imperceptible palpitation, profusion, perfection, each leaf limned upon the vibrant air with horticultural precision. Aerial tendrils dangling down through the multitudinous greenery, seeking sustenance even as they provide its structure. Stalks and stems sprouting and supporting: the armature of this dense but fragile vegetal architecture…the glimpse we occasionally catch of a human presence amidst the luxuriant, polymorphous foliage is fragmentary, fleeting. Verdure endures alone and exuberant in the fructification of itself.’

As the artist himself has noted of such works as this, ‘My obsession with plants has found here…its best grounds to express itself. These large watercolours are the negative of the positive of the blue leaf pastels of the 1970s. They are the result of chain reactions that provoke continuous deviations.’
James Lord adds that ‘Szafran’s staircases and plants are the output of an eye dedicated to the absolutism of its own experience, disciplined by self-effacement before what sight alone can convey to the senses but submissive at the same time to the sublimating want of self-expression. Proceed with caution upon these stairs and amongst the vegetation. Aesthetic delight is dangerous. The pleasure of familiar forms is deceptive…Seeing Szafran shows how wonderfully well looking can think.’

Throughout much of Sam Szafran’s career, his work was acquired by a coterie of enthusiastic and devoted collectors. Prominent among these was the French-American businessman and passionate collector William Louis-Dreyfus (1932-2016), who assembled an exceptional group of works by the artist that spanned several decades of his career. 

Medium: Watercolour on paper; a page from a large sketchbook
Signature: Signed Szafran in pencil at the lower centre.

Dimensions: 73.7 x 47.6 cm (29 x 18³/₄ inches)
Provenance: The studio of the artist, Paris
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris and New York
Purchased in 1987 by William Louis-Dreyfus, Mount Kisco
The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, from 2015.

Exhibitions: New York, Claude Bernard Gallery, Sam Szafran: Recent Works, 1987, probably no.14.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints