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Sam Francis (1923–1994) is considered the foremost American expatriate in the Paris avant-garde of the 1950s and is loosely associated with the second generation of abstract expressionists. Born in California, Francis enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley in 1941 to study medicine, but joined the US Army Air Corps in 1943. Because of a spinal injury sustained during flight training, Francis spent most of his military life confined to a hospital bed where he began to paint in watercolors. David Park, who taught painting at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), visited Francis in the hospital, bringing with him paintings from a local private collection, including examples by Miró, Klee, and Picasso. Returning to Berkeley in 1948, Francis studied painting and earned a Master of Arts degree. He subsequently moved to Paris and quickly became known in Europe; his first one-person exhibition opened in 1952 at the Galerie du Dragon, Paris, and his first museum show took place in 1955 at the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland. American success soon followed.

When Time magazine touted Francis in 1956 as the “hottest American painter in Paris,” his work came as a revelation to both artists and the public in America. Francis quickly took his place among the country’s leading abstract expressionists. Following this trend, just two years later Duncan Phillips mounted a show of Francis’s works, the artist’s first major exhibition in Washington, D.C. Paintings by Sam Francis are in the permanent collections of leading museums and cultural institutions worldwide.

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