Pierre Soulages was born on 24 December 1919, in Rodez. He travelled to Paris to train as a teacher of drawing, and was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
As a qualified teacher – and convinced of the mediocrity of art teaching in his day – he returned to Rodez and was called up in 1940, then de-mobbed in 1941. With Paris under German occupation, he settled in Montpellier and became a regular visitor and diligent art student at the Musée Fabre. He enrolled at the city's Ecole des Beaux Arts, and met a young woman from the nearby town of Sète, whom he married the following year. After 1946, he was able to devote himself entirely to painting and settled in the Paris suburbs, producing dark, abstract canvases quite at odds with the prevailing post-war trend for highly coloured, semi-figurative works. In 1948, he took part in exhibitions in Paris and across Europe, notably Französische abstrakte Malerei, a group exhibition of French abstract painting (including early masters such as Kupka, Doméla, Kootz etc.), which toured to a number of German museums. From 1954, he held regular solo exhibitions at the Kootz Gallery in New York and the Galerie France, in Paris. Fro the early 1950s, his work began to enter public collections such as the Phillips Gallery, Washington, the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, the Musée National d’Art Moderne (MNAM) in Paris, or the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro. In 1979, his first monochrome paintings – based on the reflection of light from textured black surfaces – were exhibited at the MNAM. He designed 104 stained-glass windows for the Abbaye de Conques between 1987 and 1994, executed by master glass artist Jean-Dominique Fleury. The Musée Fabre's exhibition of 29 recent works pays tribute to this renowned international artist – one of France's greatest living French painters.