Nicolas de Staël

Nicolas de Staël
Nicolas de Staël portrait
Born January 5, 1914
Saint Petersburg
Died March 16, 1955
Nationality French nationality, of Russian origin
Education Brussels Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts
Field Collage, illustration and textiles
Works View Complete Works

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia on January 5, 1914, Nicolas de Staël was French by origin and his father was vice-governor of the fortress of Peter and Paul. During the Russian Revolution, his family fled from Russia in October 1917, and was exiled to Poland in 1919, where his parents died. He was raised along with his sisters in Brussels by a Russian couple.

In 1933, at the age of 16 Nicolas took up a course at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (1932-1934) and discovered the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Matisse, Braque, Soutine and Cézanne.

In the late 1930s, de Stael enlisted with the French Foreign Legion and took a ventured to Europe and North Africa. He later moved to Paris in 1938 where he studied painting with Fernand Leger. In Morocco during the early 1940s, he met Jeanine, whom he later married.

Painting Career

In 1943, he moved to Paris, where he met César Domela, another painter of abstract. This was a difficult time in the life of de Staël who suffered from hunger and cold and had to burn wood in his apartment for heat. Jeanine, his wife, died of this misery. There he also met Jean Arp, Sonia and Robert Delaunay and Alberto Magnelli and under their influence painted his first abstract painting which he called Compositions. His first solo exhibition took place in 1944.

Nicolas de Staël produced about a thousand works which gradually slipped from the figurative (landscapes, still lives, portraits) to abstract. He developed paintings with the approach of abstract European painters that symbolized lyrical abstract expressionism. He worked with blocks of color in thick layers with a knife, trowel and scraper like a sculptor. His paintings foreshadowed the artists of the 1970s.

Subsequently he returned to figurative and researched on the effects of light. He painted footballers, jazz musicians, marine life etc. Personal and intimate, his paintings spoke to the heart and soul of the art lovers.

A turning point came between 1950 and 1952 when he began composing landscapes, still lives with a completely new approach, probably under the influence of Braque, Lapicque or Lanskoy.

He simplified his compositions, his palette brightened and the paintings were made with broad to flat knife or spatula. His paintings emerged with color, light, life and space.

In the 1950s he met with great success in the United States where he exhibited at the gallery of Thédore Schempp. He continued to work hard, constantly assailed by doubt and torn between enlightenment and despair. He turned increasingly toward abstract and his works consisted of a tangle of lines and palette steeped in anguish.

All the works of Nicolas de Staël were developed in a very short time over a dozen years from 1943 to 1955 and there are more than a thousand paintings that he painted during this period. All his paintings signify a violent creation and rare passion characterized by constant contradiction between abstract and figurative expression.

The strong personality of the painter combined with the keen intelligence of art and his unique perception of light and space led him to paint some of the key works in the history of contemporary art. His works are an expression of permanent passion and lyricism as if fate had imposed a path to develop new aesthetic relationship with reality throughout his life. The space and color are dominant constants of his art.

Final Years

Nicolas de Stael, whose work aroused a growing interest, wrote “I have not the strength to complete my paintings,” and committed suicide by throwing himself at the foot of the ramparts of Antibes on March 16, 1955. He was 41 years old and left his largest canvas The Grand Concert unfinished. During the last 5 months of his life, he painted 147 paintings and created a large number of works on paper. Nicolas de Staël was buried on March 21, 1955 at Montrouge cemetery.

Famous Paintings

A personality who had a tragic end, Nicolas de Staël occupies a unique place and had made a remarkable contribution to the world of contemporary art post second world war. He merged controversy and passion by alternating between “abstract-figuration” that characterizes the world of art.

Some of his famous paintings include Portrait of Jeannine (1941), Composition (1942), A hard life (1946), Feast Day (1949), Portrait of Anne (1953), Agrigento (1954) and Blue Nude lying (1955).

A retrospective of his work, which includes several thousand paintings, took place in Paris at the Centre Pompidou in 2003.

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