• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 11797

    Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

    29 June 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 14

    Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955)

    Deux Vases de Fleurs (Two Vases of Flowers)

    Price Realised  


    Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955)
    Deux Vases de Fleurs (Two Vases of Flowers)
    signed ‘Staël’ (upper right); signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Staël 1953 "FLEURS, LAGNES' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    24¾ x 39 3/8in. (63 x 100.2cm.)
    Painted in 1953

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    Property from The Estate of Vivian S. Schulte

    Vivian and Arthur Schulte held a lifelong love of art and music that they shared together from the date of their marriage in 1955. They travelled frequently to Europe in the 1950s to 1970s, often by ship, and would make the acquisition of new works of art the centrepiece of their trips, with an eye to filling their New York apartment and Palm Beach and Connecticut homes with art they loved and with which they wanted to live. Vivian and Arthur treasured these acquisitions – including works by Léger, Matisse, de Staël, Utrillo – as the “most valuable” of objects in their lives – regardless of whether they were from known or unknown artists.
    Vivian and Arthur continued the fine art collecting begun by Arthur’s mother, Harriet Harris Jonas, a renowned collector of painting, sculpture and decorative arts primarily from Byzantine, Renaissance and Impressionist periods. Mrs. Jonas’s art acquisitions began during the early 20th century at the time of her marriage to industrialist and business owner, David A. Schulte, and continued during her subsequent marriage to Parisian art dealer and member of the French Parliament, Édouard Jonas, in the 1930s and 1940s. Mrs. Jonas’s art collection was so extensive that the Metropolitan Museum often arranged for patrons to visit her apartment across the street from the museum at 998 Fifth Avenue. Many of these paintings comprise the artwork owned by Vivian and Arthur Schulte and which adorned the walls of their residences.

    Vivian accomplished much in her life – all the while creating a wonderful home for her extended family. She obtained a PhD in Nutrition from New York University, and in 1941 she became Food Consultant and Lecturer for L. Bamberger and Co. in Newark and conducted a radio program on nutrition for WOR during World War II to help homemakers make the most of available foods. She conducted classes in nutrition and food preservation in Newark under the auspices of the American Red Cross. She also served as Food and Home Editor for Fawcett, Hearst and Curtis Publications. Vivian won the American Dairy Association Award for distinguished food journalism and was a member of Les Dames d’Escofier. In her later years, Vivian was most proud of her poetry, for which she won numerous awards and was recognized in various publications.

    When Vivian was not spending time in tennis whites pursuing her competitive passion on the court, she was extending her involvement and generosity as an avid patron of the arts. She could be found at music festivals both in the United States or Europe, a regular patron at the Metropolitan Opera–and Tanglewood, picnicking at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera outside London, and traveling to the Salzburg Music Festival or the Vienna Opera House. She supported the careers of numerous opera sopranos and concert pianists and often held recitals in her Fifth Avenue apartment amidst her treasured artworks.

    Many of these works of art are now being shown outside of private ownership by a single family for the first time in nearly 100 years.

    - Peter M. Schulte

    Following on from our Impressionist and Modern Art sales in New York in May, Christie’s is honoured to be offering Nicolas de Staël’s superb 1954 still-life Deux Vases de Fleurs in our June Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening sale in London.


    ‘De Staël ... was a master at reducing things to essentials and his painting is never rhetorical or overloaded. Being a very fine painter, as well as a painter who loved broad effects, he could manage with a few carefully chosen shapes and subtle tonalities ... to convey an extraordinarily full visual experience’

    —D. COOPER

    ‘One never paints what one sees or thinks one sees; rather one records, with a thousand vibrations, the shock one has received, or will receive’

    —N. DE STAËL

    ‘What I am trying for is a continuous renewal, but really continuous, and it is not easy. I know what my painting is – underneath its appearance of violence and perpetual forces at play; it is something fragile in the good, in the sublime sense – it is as fragile as love’

    —N. DE STAËL

    Deux Vases de Fleurs (Two Vases of Flowers) (1953) is an intense and sumptuous vision, displaying the raw lyricism of Nicolas de Staël’s distinctive painterly practice on an intimate scale. Rich swathes of deep blue and volcanic orange are spread thickly across the canvas with a palette knife; three vases of flowers erupt in joyous explosions of yellow, orange and green. The symphonic arrangement of shapes displays de Staël’s musical eye for composition, while the incandescent colours are bathed in dazzling Provençal light: this work was executed in the summer of 1953, when de Staël was staying with his family in a former silkworm farm in Lagnes, near Avignon. Having returned to figurative painting just one year previously after a long period of abstract work, de Staël was inspired by the blazing Southern sun to bring forth a series of luminous meditations on colour and form from his surroundings. These flowers are a gorgeous expression of his total engagement with the exterior world, drawing on both abstraction and figuration: marrying his love for paint to his love for light, these blooms ultimately manifest de Staël’s deeply felt idea of ‘truth’ to visual experience. Acquired by the family of the present owner in 1954, this work was featured in the key 1990 exhibition Nicolas de Staël in America at the Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

    In asserting the absolute primacy of perception, de Staël aimed for no extrapictorial meaning; his flowers are not symbolic in their significance, but act more as vehicles for painterly exploration, like Cézanne’s apples. As James Fitzsimmons wrote in 1953, ‘If nature is de Staël’s source and inspiration, he never sentimentalises or lets it do his work for him. His paintings are not only sensitive responses to light, space and mass; they exist in their own right, and their existence is secured by the artist’s passionate feeling for paint and for tensions which exist only in art – on a flat, framed surface’ (J. Fitzsimmons, ‘In Love with Paint’, in The Arts Digest, vol. 27, no. 12, March 1953, p. 16). As in Matisse’s 1944 still-life Roses de Noel et Saxifrage, whose composition is closely reminiscent of the present work, de Staël conjures a symphonic formal interplay from both the positive and negative spaces that his flowers form on the picture plane. The floral still life tradition also links de Staël to the 19th century Impressionist masterpieces of Van Gogh as well as the earlier Dutch School; to paint flowers in his deeply personal stylistic mode was to both nostalgically evoke art history and to define himself against it. In a further art-historical dalliance the vitality of de Staël’s bold slabs of pigment recalls the gestural vigour and compositional force of American Abstract Expressionism, while his insistent figuration sets his practice apart. The painting’s vibrant rhythm, dense materiality and Mediterranean glow unite seemingly antithetical qualities: Fleurs is flavoured with both the struggle and the joy of de Staël’s total dedication to his vision. As he wrote to his friend Douglas Cooper in one of his final letters, ‘The harmonies have to be strong, very strong, subtle, very subtle, the values direct, indirect, or even inverse values. What matters is that they should be true. That always’ (N. de Staël, quoted in letter to D. Cooper, 1955, in D. Cooper, Nicolas de Staël, London 1961, p. 34).

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
    These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. This VAT is not shown separately on the invoice. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.


    Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York.
    Mr. and Mrs. Arthur David Schulte (acquired in 1954).
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that this work is signed ‘Staël’ (upper right)

    Pre-Lot Text



    J. Dubourg and F. de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, catalogue raisonné des peintures, Paris 1968, no. 599 (illustrated, p. 265).
    P. Granville, De Staël: Peintures, Paris 1984 (illustrated, p. 57).
    F. de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Neuchâtel 1997, p. 673, no. 685 (illustrated, p. 454).


    New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Nicolas de Staël, 1955, no. 6.
    New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Nicolas de Staël, 1963, p. 4, no. 9 (illustrated, p. 10).
    Washington D.C., The Philips Collection, Nicolas de Staël in America, 1990, p. 178, no. 32 (illustrated in colour, p. 89).