Lot 109
  • 109

Nicolas de Staël

220,000 - 280,000 GBP
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  • Nicolas de Staël
  • Paysage
  • signed; signed, titled and dated 1953 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 65 by 81cm.; 25 5/8 by 31 7/8 in.


Jacques Dubourg, Paris
Dr. Peter Nathan, Zürich
Galerie Beyeler, Basel


Kassel, Museum Fridericianum et Belevueschloss, Documenta II, Malerei nach 1945, 1959, no. 21, illustrated
Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Kunst von 1900 bis Heute, 1962, no. 231, illustrated
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Franse Landschappen van Cézanne tot Heden, 1963, no. 85, illustrated
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Bilanz Internationale Malerei seit 1950, 1964, no. 84, illustrated
Zürich, Kunsthaus, Nicolas de Staël, Rétrospective, 1965, no. 161
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago; New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Nicolas de Staël, 1914-1955, 1965-1966, no. 52, illustrated
Zürich, Galerie Nathan, Eröffnungsausstellung, 1974-1975, no. 70, illustrated in colour
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Paysages après l'Impressionisme, 1975, no. 67, illustrated in colour
Zürich, Galerie Nathan, Nicolas de Staël, Gemälde und Zeichnungen, 1976-1977, no. 14, illustrated


Kunstnachrichten, no. 3, Basel 1964, p. 5, illustrated in colour
Denys Sutton, De Staël, Milan 1966, pl. XIV, illustrated in colour
Jacques Dubourg & Françoise de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, Catalogue Raisonné  des Peintures,  Paris 1968, p. 270, no. 626, illustrated
Exhibition Catalogue, Saint-Paul, Fondation Maeght, Nicolas de Staël, 1972, p. 108, no. 69, illustrated
Françoise de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, Catalogue Raisonné de l'Oeuvre Peint, Neuchâtel 1997, p. 452, no. 679, illustrated


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly brighter, with the brick red in the lower right quadrant tending more towards coral in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Upon close inspection, there are several extremely fine hairline cracks scattered throughout the composition. There is a small patch of craquelure to the ochre pigment in the lower centre of the composition. A few pinhead-sized media accretions are visible on close examination to the left of centre in the sky. There are two small patches of discolouration to the area of sky, one towards the upper left corner, the other towards the upper right corner. Examination under ultra-violet light reveals two small patches of retouching, to the left and right sides of the top edge.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1953, Paysage shows a marked sea-change in Nicolas de Staël's philosophy of painting which was to be highly controversial at the time. Although he had always seen himself as an individual painter who was not attached to any particular movement or place, de Staël was generally acknowledged as one of the leading lights of the so-called Ecole de Paris movement of abstract artists. In the wake of the horrors of reality which had been witnessed during World War II, these artists sought refuge in the evocation of pure, unadulterated abstract form and colour on canvas, as a kind of European answer to Abstract Expressionism. However, following his trip to the United States in 1953 for his exhibition at Knoedler & Co., and further exposure to a whole range of cultures from all eras during a number of trips that same year, de Staël's art began to re-introduce aspects of the figurative. Unfortunately, in his trail-blazing attempt to reconcile the advances of abstraction with other great traditions of figurative art in the European canon, de Staël found himself alienated by the avant-garde critics for his "return to figuration".

Fortunately enough, time has healed that particular argument and, viewed in the light of the pre-dominance of the figurative and the gradual fragmentation of a distinct 'style' in Post-Modern painting, these paintings are now regarded as some of the most important in Post-War European art. Quintessentially de Staël in its pared down composition of rough-hewn tranches of colour, Paysage was painted during the summer whilst the artist was at Lagnes – a place to which he frequently returned to paint due to the mesmerizing Mediterranean light there. Regarded as amongst the most beautiful and groundbreaking paintings he produced that year, these works effortlessly capture the extraordinary light and atmosphere of the South of France in perfect painterly form.

The thick strokes of colour de Staël employs here emphasise the materiality of the paint, whilst the composition describes a more subtle relationship between abstract light and space. This mature style, rendered using a palette knife to smooth layer upon layer of colour into formal harmony, results in a wondrous compositional dynamic where the areas of friction between the interlocking forms contain a history of the previous workings. The result is a stunning transparency of colour whose Rothko-like glow is offset by the glimmers of red and orange underlayers.

Whilst the abstract pictorial flatness of Paysage prompts the viewer for their own emotional response and interpretation, the subject is in fact specifically referential. Here de Staël commits lived experience to abstraction in a dialogue of new order with reality. He cultivates the balance between concentration and subtlety in exacting colour as the truest expression of light. The azurean blue sky dominates the composition, its every nuance glistening with glowing accents of distant cloud, whilst the red and yellow residing in the foreground contrive to warm the whole composition with a unifying luminescence. It was with such paintings that de Staël led the way, showing his contemporaries the possibilities of abstract art, and it was during this period, the last two years of his life, that he made true breakthroughs for painting.