Lot 39
  • 39

Nicolas de Staël

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Nicolas de Staël
  • Le Phare (Antibes)
  • Signed Stael (on the reverse)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 23 5/8 by 31 7/8 in.
  • 60 by 81 cm


Jacques Dubourg, Paris

Philippe Reichenbach, Paris

Alex Maguy, Paris

Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia (acquired from the above in July 1970)

Thence by descent 


Jacques Dubourg & Françoise de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, Paris, 1968, no. 925, illustrated p. 356

Françoise de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Neuchâtel, 1997, no. 953, illustrated p. 582

Catalogue Note

Shimmering with an ethereal dawn glow, Le Phare (Antibes) from 1954 epitomizes the mature painterly idiom of Nicolas de Staël. A master of painterly abstraction, de Staël relied solely on color to create the illusion of space, light and form, exploring abstraction for its capacity to convey moods and emotions aroused in him by nature. Held in the Mellon Family Collection since 1970, Le Phare (Antibes) is a superb example of the artist’s unique and remarkable ability to capture the profound intimacy of lived experience within a limited vernacular of purified geometric forms. 

Executed just a year before the artist’s suicide at forty-one years old, Le Phare (Antibes) reflects de Staël at the pinnacle of his output. Widely acknowledged as his most groundbreaking period, it was at this time that he abandoned the palette knife for the confident bravado and control of the paintbrush. Initially painting still lifes and portraits at the advent of his career, de Staël turned to abstraction in 1942, without ever entirely abandoning his interest in representation. Le Phare (Antibes) exemplifies de Staël’s fusion of abstraction with figurative landscape painting, reconciling the two ostensibly opposing styles. De Staël discussed his belief that a painting should follow both stylistic schools equally: “I do not set up abstract painting in opposition to figurative. A painting should be both abstract and figurative: abstract to the extent that it is a flat surface, figurative to the extent that it is a representation of space” (quoted in Nicolas de Staël in America (exhibition catalogue), The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., 1990, p. 22).

Like Richard Diebenkorn, de Staël oscillated between the abstract and representational in his depictions of landscape, capturing the feeling of a place rather than its mimetic corollary; moreover, exhibiting chromatic tendencies akin to Henri Matisse, the refinement and reductive sophistication of de Staël’s palette attained a highly cerebral and riveting sensorial simplicity. In the year following the artist’s death, the art historian Douglas Cooper described: “de Staël was unique among the painters of his generation in that he stood out against an easy-going acceptance of the non-figurative aesthetic and insisted on the responsibility of any serious painter to try and reconcile the pattern of abstract forms and arbitrary colors, which are the constituent elements of every picture, with the facts of a visual experience” (D. Cooper, "Nicolas de Staël: In Memoriam" in The Burlington Magazine, May 1956, vol. 98, no. 638, p. 140).