Nu is a monumental canvas from a pivotal year in the development of Magnelli's artistic career.
It was in Florence at the beginning of 1914 that the artist achieved a breakthrough in his experimental quest for pure abstraction through colour, culminating in 1919 with the Explosions lyriques. In a departure from his 1913 pictures, where Magnelli had layered the pigment with restraint, in the canvasses of 1914 he began to use oil with more exuberance, applying it in elegant, impeccably designed juxtapositions of flat colour. One of the best examples of this new method is Le café, where the measured pattern of black and coloured areas created a complex and stylised composition.
At the core of this new-found maturity is Magnelli's stay in Paris in the spring of 1914, when he became acquainted with many of the avant-garde movements which had recently blossomed in the city: Cubism - and especially Picasso - to whom he was introduced by Kahnweiler, and Fauvism, especially Matisse, to whose studio he was invited by Apollinaire.
Since the early 1910s, Magnelli had declined his research according to the three classical categories of still-life, landscape, and figure. In 1914, he worked simultaneoulsy on these themes, pushing his work to unprecendented results. His still-lifes gained an almost 'pop-art' (ante-litteram) simplicity of form, where the objects became metaphysical symbols delineated solely with flat fields of screaming colour. Magnelli's landscapes, defined by a strong cloisonnisme of line, were the clear spring-board for his later abstract compositions. In his portraits, Magnelli displayed his real tour de force, particularly in the Nus, where he paid homage to the African statues he had seen in Paris, constantly referenced by the Cubists, giving them his own chromatically daring spin.
The present Nu fuses all three of these genres. Cast against an almost abstract, essential landscape, is an enigmatic, isolated feminine figure, twisted by the forces of a gentle Cubist tension. To her right, in a dangerous balance over an improbable board, is a pitcher - almost a painting within the painting, a still-life per se, reminiscent of Magnelli's contemporary powerful depictions of cafétières, bottles and pots.