The White Line

Sam Francis, American, 1923 - 1994. Printed by Emil Matthieu, Zurich. Published by Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern.


Color lithograph

Image: 33 3/8 x 24 7/8 inches (84.8 x 63.2 cm) Sheet: 35 3/4 x 24 7/8 inches (90.8 x 63.2 cm)

© Sam Francis Foundation, California / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack M. Friedland, 2004

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Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    When Sam Francis completed his first sixteen lithographs in Zurich in 1960 at the age of thirty-seven, the California-born artist had already won international acclaim as a leading Abstract Expressionist painter of the postwar generation. As an artist for whom the act of painting was a voyage of discovery, Francis was entranced by the mysterious properties of printmaking. Lithography easily accommodated his customary rhythmic application of broad brushstrokes, haphazard drips, and flung splatters. It also offered an unexpected advantage over watercolor and oil painting. In The White Line, Francis drew on six different stones (one for each color), using a similar choreography of gestures each time. Since the stones were to be inked and printed separately, it was easy for the artist to try out various color combinations before choosing the exact shade of red, orange, blue, yellow, green, and black he preferred.

    Francis's oils and watercolors of the early 1950s employ a patchwork of subtle colors that stain the entire surface of the canvas or paper, but during the second half of the decade he began to allow unpainted areas to balance the vibrant energy of his increasingly brilliant hues. The White Line shares its title with several related oils and watercolors of 1958-59 in which a central channel divides the composition vertically. The last of Francis's pivotal early investigations into the forcefulness of unworked areas, The White Line was awarded the grand prize at the Third Biennial Exhibition of Prints in 1962 in Tokyo. Forty years later this dazzling lithograph is still regarded as a masterpiece of modern printmaking. John Ittman, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 137.