Sam Francis Foundation gifts over 500 prints to Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee, Wis. – The Sam Francis Foundation has donated over 500 prints to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Sam Francis (1923–1994) was an American painter and printmaker who used a variety of colors and techniques to experiment with both surrealism and abstract expressionism.

“We are honored to accept this gift from the Foundation, representing nearly all of Sam Francis’ lithographs, etchings, and screenprints dating from the early 1960s to the 1990s,” said Mary Weaver Chapin, associate curator of prints and drawings for the Milwaukee Art Museum. “This aggregate collection representing the whole of his career is invaluable.”

Following an accident and illness requiring years of hospitalization, Francis began painting for distraction in 1945. He subsequently left his medical studies to pursue an arts career, which took him from his native California all over the world. Unlike many of his fellow Abstract Expressionists, who only occasionally made prints, Francis was a committed and innovative printmaker throughout his career. He explored dreams and memories, Jungian archetypes, sensations of light, color, and sound, Eastern religion, and philosophy in his paintings, etchings, lithographs, screenprints, monotypes, drawings, and illustrated books.

Francis was instrumental in encouraging fellow artists to explore printmaking, and he invited artists to produce prints and artists’ books at his two presses, The Litho Shop (founded 1970) , and Lapis Press, which was begun in 1984. The gift from the Sam Francis Foundation also includes twenty-four works by other internationally known artists (Anish Kapoor, Niki de St. Phalle, and Christopher Wool, among others) that were published by Francis’s Lapis Press.

“The Museum is honored to be a repository for the work of Sam Francis,” said Dan Keegan, director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. “This generous gift has expanded our Herzfeld Foundation Print, Drawing, and Photography Study Center and the opportunities it presents the Museum to showcase works of art on paper.”

Debra Burchett-Lere, director of the Sam Francis Foundation in southern California, cites the Museum’s commitment to prints, its dedicated staff, and impressive collection of modern art as some of determining factors in awarding this gift.

“We are honored to partner with the Milwaukee Art Museum to bring Francis’s dynamic prints to the Midwest. This collection offers a unique opportunity to study Francis’s prints in one location, the only public museum facility currently with this distinction in the world. The mission of the foundation is to research, document, protect, and perpetuate the creative legacy of the artist Sam Francis so working with the Milwaukee Art Museum in this donation of art fulfills our goal to promote public awareness and knowledge about the art of Sam Francis,” said Burchett-Lere.

The gift entered the collection in 2009. An exhibition of highlights of the collection is planned for 2012.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s far-reaching holdings include more than 20,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum houses a collection with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art. The Museum includes the Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, named by Time magazine as “Best Design of 2001.”

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