Born in 1900 in Moscow, Poliakoff attended church almost daily as a child, and the strong colors and contemplative, mimetic power of religious icons would fascinate him for his entire life. He took drawing lessons from age 14, part of a cultured upbringing that abruptly ended with the 1917 Russian Revolution. He fled the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, eventually arriving in Bulgaria. There, he began to tour Europe during the early 1920s and settled in Paris in 1923.
Alongside Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hartung and Nicolas de Staël (the latter’s commitment to nonobjective art especially influencing the artist), Poliakoff is regarded as a member of the “new” École de Paris following World War II. Avoiding empirical, or overly geometric line and form, Poliakoff’s canvases invest in the asymmetrical and expressive qualities associated with Lyrical Abstraction.