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).
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