Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Sam Francis papers
Date (inclusive): 1916-2010 (bulk 1950-1994)
238.73 Linear Feet
(298 boxes, 58 flatfile folders, 3 rolls, 25 videocassettes, 9
DVDs, 15 films, 4 audio reels)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
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.
Language: Collection material is in English
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
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
(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.
Open for use by qualified researchers with the following exceptions. Audio visual materials
are unavailable until reformatted. Box 193 is sealed until 2086.
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.
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.
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,
Series III. Lapis Press,
Series IV. Business
Series V. Jung Institute,
Series VI. Printed
Series VII. Artist files,
Series VIII. Artwork,
Subjects - Topics
Artists -- California
Small presses -- California -- Los Angeles
Genres and Forms of Material
Prints -- 20th century
Proofs (printed matter)
Photographic prints -- California -- 20th century
Posters -- United States -- 20th century
Martha Jackson Gallery