Review: A fine introduction to Sam Francis’ Abstract Expressionism

Part of an epic 1956 commission from a Swiss museum director, the canvas assembles patchy clouds of veiled, liquid color — watery blue, bright yellow and deep orange — that seem to grow and multiply like organic cells within a luminous white field. When it was finally installed two years later in the grand stairwell of the Basel Kunsthalle with its pair of companion paintings, the trio cemented Francis’ reputation as a major artist.

Despite its current location, “Basel Mural I” is not included in the lovely exhibition “Sam Francis: Five Decades of Abstract Expressionism from California Collections.” That’s no surprise. Even if there was adequate gallery space in the Pasadena Museum of California Art, where the show opened Sunday, just getting the mural moved across town would be a difficult task.

More than 12 feet tall and nearly 20 feet wide, it approaches the enveloping scale of a big, 1920s Claude

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