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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Sam Francis papers
    Date (inclusive): 1916-2010 (bulk 1950-1994)
    Number: 2004.M.8
    Creator/Collector: Francis, Sam, 1923-1994
    Physical Description: 238.73 Linear Feet (298 boxes, 58 flatfile folders, 3 rolls, 25 videocassettes, 9 DVDs, 15 films, 4 audio reels)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    Business Number: (310) 440-7390
    Fax Number: (310) 440-7780
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: California born artist Sam Francis was a second generation Abstract Expressionist painter who incorporated influences of Jungian psychology, Buddhism, and Japanese aesthetics into the urban and angst-ridden painting style of the New York School. After living abroad in Paris and Japan, he settled in Los Angeles, where he founded a fine art print press, the Litho Shop, a book press, Lapis Press, and painted prolifically until his death in 1994. The papers document his exhibitions, business ventures, friendships, five marriages, and childhood.
    Request Materials: To access physical materials on site, go to the library catalog record   for this collection and click "Request an Item." Click here for access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Sam Francis was born in 1923 in San Mateo, California. He studied botany and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, but dropped out before graduating to enlist in the Army during World War II. Injured in a training flight crash in 1944, he was a convalescent for several years, during which time he began to paint as a form of distraction. When he recovered he returned to college, studying painting under Bay Area artists David Park and Clifford Still.
    Francis moved to Paris in the 1950s, where he had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Nina Dausset. Shortly thereafter, he joined Martha Jackson Gallery, and was featured in the landmark 1956 12 Americans show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the late 1950s he painted a mural for the Sogetsu School in Toyko, Japan, initiating a lifelong relationship with people and art institutions in that country. In the early 1960s he permanently settled in Los Angeles, where he remained a prolific painter until the end of his life. He founded a fine art printing press, the Litho Shop, in 1970, and a book publishing business, Lapis Press, in 1984, the latter with Jan Butterfield and Jack Stauffacher. He became a key figure in the incipient Los Angeles art scene, known for his support of other artists, and was a founding member of the Museum of Contemporary Art. At the same time, he had frequent exhibitions and major retrospectives at museums in Europe, Japan and the U.S. Both famous and unusually wealthy for a California painter, he felt also the burden of responsibility his achievement brought and was known to remark that he was "tired" of being Sam Francis.
    A second generation Abstract Expressionist, Francis brought to the New York style of painting the influences of Jungian psychology, Buddhism and Japanese aesthetics. His work evolved from the monochrome abstractions of the 1950s to color-splattered canvases with large fields of white. While generally acknowledged as an important post-war painter, critical acclaim focuses on his 1950s paintings, a series titled Blue Balls (created in response to a bout with renal tuberculosis) and a series painted for his fourth wife, Mako Idemitsu.
    Francis was married five times and had four children. He died in 1994 at the age of 71.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers with the following exceptions. Audio visual materials are unavailable until reformatted. Box 193 is sealed until 2086.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Sam Francis papers, 1916-2010 (bulk 1950-1994), The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, accession no. 2004.M.8.


    Gift of the Estate of Samuel L. Francis in 2004.

    Processing History

    Jan Bender and Annette Leddy processed the Sam Francis papers and Annette Leddy prepared the finding aid in 2011.
    Tori Maches under the supervision of Laura Schroffel transferred digital content on March 7, 2017. Further processing is required on remaining digital content.

    Digitized Material

    Selected Audio Recordings have been digitized: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2004m8av 
    Selected material from Series VIII. Artwork has been digitized. Access is available on-site only: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2004m8s8 

    Separated Materials

    More than 300 books were transferred to the Research Library. They can be found by searchign the library catalog for the Sam Francis source collection.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Sam Francis papers span the artist's entire life and include family and personal material as well as correspondence with friends and art institutions around the world. Francis' art-related businesses, the Litho Shop and Lapis Press, are well documented. There are also numerous prints, products, and art making tools.
    Series I includes correspondence with artists, curators and dealers, including Joan Mitchell, Bruce Conner, Pontus Hulten, and Martha Jackson. There are also letters between Francis and his parents and between Francis and each of his wives. Series II. Personal includes family photographs of his parents and stepmother, as well as documents and manuscripts belonging to them. There are photographs of Francis at every stage of his life, as well as numerous photographs of his wives and four children. There is also some audiovisual documentation of Francis' family, including a video tape by fourth wife Mako Idemitsu, now an important video artist, of the two sons she had with Francis.
    Series III. Lapis Press documents the projects, both realized and unrealized, that engaged the press, including manuscripts for books of poetry, philosophy, biography and fiction. Awards and reviews, business files, and a selection of unique proofs and paste-ups are included in this series.
    Series IV. Business files includes a range of projects Francis worked on that are not included in Lapis Press files, such as printing projects for the Litho Shop, the performance piece Single Wing Turquoise Bird, Francis' design for Swatch watches, and the Jeffrey Perkins documentary, The Painter Sam Francis. There are financial papers and ledgers from intermittent years. The Sam Francis Estate has added to this series posthumous material particularly related to the Catalog Raisonnee.
    Series V concerns Francis's involvement in Jungian philosophy and particularly James Kirsch, one of whose books was published by Lapis Press. Series VII is a small collection of Artist files, including manuscripts and films.
    Series VI. Printed matter comprises a very comprehensive collection of announcements, brochures, and posters from Francis' exhibitions, while Series VIII. Artwork includes transparencies of etchings, paintings and lithographs, numerous exhibition installation shots, products Francis designed, and tools he employed in his artmaking.


    The papers are arranged in eight series: Series I. Correspondence, 1937-2008; Series II. Personal, 1916-2000; Series III. Lapis Press, 1943-2002; Series IV. Business files, 1960-2008; Series V. Jung Institute, 1931-1997; Series VI. Printed matter, 1950-2010; Series VII. Artist files, 1960-2002; Series VIII. Artwork, 1955-2003;

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Topics

    Artists -- California
    Jungian psychology
    Small presses -- California -- Los Angeles
    Abstract expressionism

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Prints -- 20th century
    Proofs (printed matter)
    Photographic prints -- California -- 20th century
    Posters -- United States -- 20th century


    Conner, Bruce, 1933-2008
    Idemitsu, Mako, 1940-
    Mitchell, Joan, 1925-1992
    Lapis Press
    Martha Jackson Gallery
    Francis, Sam, 1923-1994
    Hultén, Pontus, 1924-2006