Pierre Soulages was born in Rodez, Aveyron in the South of France in 1919. At the age of 18 Soulages travelled to Paris, where he visited museums and was fascinated by the artists Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne. In 1941 he was drafted into the army; his regiment was located in Montpellier, where he attended the École des Beaux-Arts. There he also became acquainted with the abstract artist Sonia Delaunay.
As of 1946 he maintained a studio in Courbevoie near Paris and established contact with artists such as Domela, Picabia, Hartung and Léger. In the following year his pictures were exhibited publicly for the first time in the Salon des Surindépendants and thus made accessible to a wider public. Already living in Paris he designed several stage sets between 1949 and 1952. Along with trips to Mexico and the USA, his visit to Japan in 1958 took on special significance.
Early impressions of his country's austere Romanesque architecture and Celtic monuments as well as the later influence of East Asian calligraphy dominated his gestural, yet compositional well-balanced paintings with their black and brown beam fonts on light coloured bases.
In his later works Pierre Soulages used flat rubber spatulas or roll brushes as painting utensils, which influenced the aesthetic effect of his bulky works. As an important representative of the Ecole de Paris and informel art, Soulages was repeatedly represented at the "documenta" in the 50s and 60s; his first great retrospective took place in Hanover, Essen and The Haag as early as 1960-61.
In the following years he received numerous international art awards, including the "Rembrandt Award" in Germany in 1976 and the "Great National Award for Painting" in Paris in 1987. In 1994 he was honoured in Japan with the "Praemium Imperiale" for painting. The execution of the 104 stained-glass windows for Conques abbey, the designs for which he had already begun in 1987, was completed in 1994. Pierre Soulages lives and works in Sète and Paris.