Nicolas de Staël
- Nicolas de Staël
- oil on card
Alain Lesieutre, Paris
Briest, Paris, 54 Oeuvres Provenant de la Collection d’Alain Lesieutre, 24 November 1992, Lot 43
Daniel Varenne, Geneva
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1992
Françoise de Staël, Ed., Nicolas de Staël: Catalogue Raisonné de l’Oeuvre Peint, Neuchâtel 1997, p. 391, no. 528, illustrated in colour
Honfleur epitomises these concerns. Buttery slabs of oil paint, applied with a palette knife, split the surface of the painting into bands of colour. Each indicates a steadily more distant visual plane, culminating in the sea which in turn dissolves into a grey sky. The scene is intimately familiar. The town of Honfleur is incidental – as it was for the Impressionist masters, light is paramount. The fundamental aim for de Staël was to achieve a balance between “absolute form and absolute formlessness”, and light, a formless entity upon which form is reliant, constituted the perfect subject (Nicolas de Staël writing to Jacques Dubourg, in: Exh. Cat., Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais (and travelling), Nicolas de Staël, May - November 1981, p. 16).
The other factor that de Staël considered to be of paramount importance in achieving this balance between form and formlessness, figuration and abstraction, was depth of composition. Honfleur is deeply characteristic of de Staël’s unique handling of paint, perhaps the single factor that has most cemented his reputation. He believed that the balance he strove for could only be expressed through mass and volume, and that each plane of colour had to be carefully gradated, to avoid “ending up with a flat Pompei fresco” (Nicolas de Staël writing to Jacques Dubourg, in: ibid.). Honfleur typifies this subtle textural gradation, whilst simultaneously testifying to de Staël’s intimate evocation of the changeable qualities of light. It captures a moment where de Staël, as a key proponent of European art at the time, breaks free of the yoke of American influence to combine both figuration and abstraction. Tottering tantalisingly between the two, Honfleur defies characterisation, a powerful example from de Staël’s most definitive artistic period.