Pierre Soulages, a leading proponent of Tachisme (from the French word tache, meaning blot or stain), maintained that he decided to become a painter while inside the church of Sainte-Foy in Conques-en-Rouergue, near his birthplace in the South of France. The impressions of monumentality, stability, primitive force, and clearly organized volumes characteristic of the Romanesque style, as well as the mystery and sobriety of dark church interiors, were metaphorically transmitted in his mature style. Early on he was also drawn to the work of Claude Lorraine and Rembrandt van Rijn, whose rendering of light had an impact on his development. In 1938 he moved to Paris to prepare for the entrance exam to the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, but he soon abandoned his traditional studies at the school as a result of seeing exhibitions of the work of Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso and visiting the Louvre.
In his earliest work Soulages took leafless winter trees as his point of departure. Their essential, reduced network of branches—which Soulages regarded as abstract sculpture—provided him with an ideal vehicle for the exploration of structure and variation. During the German occupation of France, he met Sonia Delaunay, who introduced him to abstract art and set him on a new path. By the mid 1950s, Soulages had switched from a small brush, with which he had painted abstract calligraphic patterns, to palette knives, straightedges, and large house-painting brushes. These tools afforded him a greater range of motion in his wrist, allowing him to produce bold, dynamic strokes that resulted in a more gestural surface. Throughout his career, Soulages painted in a predominately black palette in order to explore the contrasts of light and shade, which endowed his paintings both an architectonic and a sculptural quality. In Painting, November 20, 1956 (Peinture, 20 novembre 1956, 1956), Soulages divided his canvas into three horizontal registers, articulating each with a repetition of slablike black shapes that reveal a variety of red and brown nuances, as well as a certain luminosity.