Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955)

Nature Morte au Fond Jaune (Still Life with Yellow Background)

Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955)
Nature Morte au Fond Jaune (Still Life with Yellow Background)
signed ‘Staël’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
18 x 23 7/8in. (45.8 x 60.8cm.)
Painted in 1952
Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris.
Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., London.
E.J. Power, London.
Private Collection, UK (thence by descent).
Waddington Galleries, London.
Acquired from the above by Jeremy Lancaster, 8 July 1997.
J. Dubourg & F. de Staël, Nicolas de Staël. Catalogue raisonné des peintures, Paris 1968, no. 525 (illustrated, p. 227; incorrectly titled ‘Nature Morte’).
F. de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Neuchâtel 1997, no. 359 (illustrated, p. 332).
London, Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., Hommage à Nicolas de Staël, 1956, p. 3, no. 5 (illustrated, p. 9).
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.

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Lot Essay

Held for many years in the collection of E.J. Power, the exquisite Nature Morte au Fond Jaune (Still Life with Yellow Background) exemplifies Nicolas de Staël's career-long quest to synthesise abstraction and figuration. Using only a few colours and a simplified line, the painting depicts a single glass and two pieces of fruit. Applied generously with a palette knife, the paint is thick and dense. The crisp horizon formed by the table both divides the painting and acts as a stage, conferring upon the three objects a quiet sense of dignity. Set against a glowing ground of yellow, the background of Nature Morte au Fond Jaune recalls the internal luminescence of paintings by Johannes Vermeer which de Staël studied closely during his travels to Amsterdam. Indeed, de Staël’s oeuvre was underpinned by a deep reverence for the Old Masters, and although concerned with fashioning a new style in art, he still understood his work to be in dialogue with the past. Born in Saint Petersburg to an aristocratic family, de Staël, his siblings and parents were forced to flee during the Russian revolution. His ensuing itinerant years were marked by a voracious consumption of canonical art. By 1952, the year Nature Morte au Fond Jaune was painted, he had developed his own singular aesthetic, inspired in part by his reverence for older European artists including Delacroix, Matisse and Rembrandt. His career, writes critic Stuart Jeffries, was ‘a self-conscious but pleasurable wrangle with his art-historical predecessors’; indeed, Nature Morte au Fond Jaune presents a world forged out of the past that uses colour as both representation and form (S. Jeffries, ‘Reasons to be cheerful’, The Guardian, 14 June 2003).

By the end of the 1940s, de Staël had gained international recognition for his abstract compositions filled with blocks of warm, muted colour. Although these paintings appear non-representational, the artist sought a visual idiom that reflected and honoured the world around him; his paintings were wholly rooted in the real. ‘My passion,’ he said, ‘is to trap a marvellous thing that passes by in a second … I am an impaler of images’ (N. de Staël, quoted in M. Peppiatt ‘Black A, white E, red I, green U, blue O: Vowels, one day I shall reveal your secret birth’, Nicolas de Staël, exh. cat., Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, 2013, p. 12). Perhaps this enduring commitment to the everyday helped to facilitate the artist’s shift towards more recognisable imagery during the early 1950s. This was a particularly fertile time for de Staël, during which two of his exhibitions were hailed as triumphs by the New York Times: ‘Staël will surely be counted as one of the most influential painters of his generation’, wrote the critic Douglas Cooper (D. Cooper, quoted in Nicolas de Staël, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1981, p. 15). In the works of this period, he elaborated elsewhere, his ‘pictorial invention was harnessed to a great effort, and in everything he produced one feels the force of his originality and vitality’ (D. Cooper, Nicolas de Staël, London 1961, p. 62). De Staël’s devotion to his abstracted iconography is evident in the identifiable scene of Nature Morte au Fond Jaune, but the work is nevertheless autonomous. The sculptural accrual of paint seems almost separate from reality itself. In searching for new ways of seeing, the artist summoned a world whose authenticity transcended verisimilitude.

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