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Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955)

Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris

Details
Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955)
Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris
signed 'Staël' (lower left)
oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 23 5/8in. (81 x 60cm.)
Painted in 1953
Provenance
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York (acquired in July 1953).
Mrs. Walter Ross, New York (acquired in October 1953).
Mrs. Adelaide Ross Stachelberg, New York.
Their sale, Christies London, 3 December 1984, lot 54.
Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998.
Literature
Art Digest, no. 2, New York, November 1955 (illustrated, p. 51).
J. Dubourg and F. de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, catalogue raisonné des peintures, Paris 1968, no. 575 (illustrated, p. 261). F. de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Neuchâtel 1997, no. 587 (illustrated, p. 423).
Exhibited
New York, Paul Rosenberg Gallery, Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955), 1955, no. 15.
Bern, Kunsthalle Bern, Nicolas de Staël, 1957, no. 68.
New York, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Nicolas de Staël: Paintings 1950-1955, 1997, no. 16, p. 34 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
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.

Lot Essay

'Painting, true painting, always tends towards all aspects, that is to say, towards the impossible sum of the present moment, the past and the future... I'm doing something which can't be examined closely, which can't be taken to pieces, which has a value through its adventurous quality, which one may accept or not... One uses strong, delicate, or very delicate, direct or indirect values, or even the converse of value - what matters is that it should be right'
(N. de Staël, quoted in letter to D. Cooper January 1954, Nicolas de Staël, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1981, p. 18).


In Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris de Staël depicts flowers as if they are bursting forth from the canvas in a flourish of richly impastoed oil paint. Rendered in a palette of lustrous greys and strident reds, greens and blues, Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris epitomises this tension between abstraction and figuration for which de Staël's practice is celebrated. Constructed from a carefully considered patchwork of pure colour blocks that are not quite defined but distinct from one another, de Staël allows the space between to reveal contrasting tones, bringing about a dynamic compositional harmony. Charting his own path against the pure abstract style that was de rigueur during the post-War period, de Staël succeeds in bridging the gap between his contemporaries and the Modernist practices of Georges Braque and Henri Matisse. In his almost idiosyncratic need to bring expression to the natural world, de Staël said: 'All my life I have needed to think painting, to see paintings, to make paintings to help myself live, to free myself from all the impressions, all the sensations, all the anxieties to which I have never found any other issue than painting' (N. de Staël, catalogue preface for Knoedler Gallery 1953, in Nicolas de Staël, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1981, p. 171).

Executed at the pinnacle of Nicolas de Staël's practice, Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris is an elegant synthesis of the artist's pioneering investigations into abstraction and figuration. Widely regarded in the Abstract Expressionist-dominated America of the 1950s as Europe's leading abstract pioneer, de Staël's work had first been introduced to the USA in 1953 at his landmark exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery in New York. It was in the immediate aftermath of this exhibition that de Staël signed an exclusive contract with Paul Rosenberg, the leading dealer of modern art in America. Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris was one of the works selected by Rosenberg. Other paintings chosen by the preeminent dealer include Nice (1953) and Agrigente (Sicile, Agrigente; vue d'Agrigente) (1953), now held in such prestigious American institutional collections as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Recognised for his unique marrying of figuration and abstraction, de Staël's paintings appear to root the transcendental energy of Abstract Expressionism in the real world. Executed in a delicate balance of colour and form, Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris's bold blocks of pigment have a rough and intense physicality that recall the gestural vigour of America's celebrated Action Painters while still presenting a discernible figuration that sets his painterly practice apart. Indeed the interplay of the formal aspects of painting with de Staël's figurative reality allows the work to completely engage in visual experience and alludes to the very painterly still-life practices of such modern masters as Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh. Of this almost antithetical pairing of abstraction and figuration de Staël explained, 'Painting, true painting, always tends towards all aspects, that is to say, towards the impossible sum of the present moment, the past and the future... I'm doing something which can't be examined closely, which can't be taken to pieces, which has a value through its adventurous quality, which one may accept or not... One uses strong, delicate, or very delicate, direct or indirect values, or even the converse of value - what matters is that it should be right' (N. de Staël, quoted in letter to D. Cooper January 1954, Nicolas de Staël, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1981, p. 18).
Alternating between palette knife and brush, de Staël heaped paint on to his canvas in short swipes, pulling and pushing the pigment in order to convey a sense of the tactility of the material itself and highlight the formal qualities of colour. An essential ingredient for the artist, de Staël used colour to expand the space of his compositions and to bring out visceral sensory responses. In the present work, the artist reveals chromatic palimpsests of gold, blue and black alongside dense passages of light. Rendered in progressive layers of soft greys and creams, de Staël creates a sense of rhythm in his daubs of fiery red that add richness and complexity to the overall composition. Of these colours Pierre Lecuire said in a well-known passage from his Voir Nicolas de Staël, 'his greys. There would be no light in the paintings, no atmosphere, no transparency... if it were not for the famous greys. These greys are quite unique in the painting today; unique in their refinement and variety, unique in substance and depth, and unique also in the multiple ways the painter combines them' (P. Lecuire, quoted in Voir de Staël, reproduced in Nicolas de Staël, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1981, p. 171).
Indeed the stirring colours of Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris would seem to recall the brightening qualities that de Staël experienced at a football match at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. It was there where the artist experienced the ways in which the unnatural light from the flood lamps could affect how the players appeared to move in their brightly coloured uniforms. He presented this abstracting effect of light in his celebrated landscapes of the same year that captured the Mediterranean landscapes of Southern France and Sicily. De Staël's capturing of the evanescent white light that he found reflecting off the marble ruins of Southern Italy also informs the luminous palette of Fleurs blanches et rouges dans un vase gris. In this regard, James Fitzsimmons wrote in his review of the Knoedler Gallery exhibition, 'De Staël is an abstract impressionist in love with light and paint, which he lays on in thick vertical and horizontal slabs as if it were butter or putty to be spread across the canvas with a trowel. He has affinities with the Fauves... 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', reproduced in ibid., p. 136).

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