Les Indes Galantes (small version), part of Frank Stella's Concentric Squares and Mitered Mazes series, is based on sketches from his trip to Europe for his first European solo exhibition at the Galerie Lawrence in Paris in 1961. The title of this painting, Les Indes Galantes (The Gallant Indies), refers to an opera-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau about Cupid's search to understand love. The title may reflect Stella's time spent in Paris and also his marriage to Barbara Rose in November of that year.
To Stella, abstraction was the pinnacle of art and Les Indes Galantes captures the artist's maxim, "what you see is what you see." Stella recently commented, "Abstraction is making painting that can stand by itself as an act of painting, I mean it's always hard to make abstract art. The problem for me is to make art and that problem is to make abstract art, because I think that is the art worth making. (F. Stella, "What You See is What You See": Frank Stella and the Anderson Collection at SFMOMA, online interview, 2004, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, http://www.sfmoma.org/stella/). The painting owes its hypnotic excitement to the discord between the controlled composition of the concentric bands and the vibrant colors; the dialogue between the formal qualities of the strict pictorial rectangle and that of the rainbow colors resulting in "almost a numbing power" (W. Rubin, Frank Stella, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 48).