"One does not begin with nothing. When Nature is not the starting point, the picture is inevitably bad" (N. de Stael, quoted in C. Naylor, Contemporary Masterworks, Chicago, 1991, p. 71). Clearly with Sicile, de Stal began with Nature.
Sicile is a masterwork from de Stal's series of Sicilian landscapes executed after his Augsut 1953 visit to Sicily, in which the artist displays his mastery of the palette knife and strong pigments. The rich colors shout from the canvas, describing the luminosity created by the intense Mediterranean light as it falls across the rocky Sicilian landscape; the viewer's eye traces the contours that are expressed and emphasized by the thickly impastoed surface of the canvas. Douglas Cooper wrote that "only de Stal with his unique visual sensibility would ever have dared to try and convey the intensity of his sensations by such an astonishing range of brilliant violets, reds, oranges, blues and yellows..." (D. Cooper, Nicolas de Stal, London, 1961, p. 61).
In spite of the virulent colors and angular forms, visual harmony is achieved through a balanced composition, the blocks of color providing a vehicle for perspective and distance--in much the same way that they did in the work of Czanne. The critic and friend of the artist, Denys Sutton, wrote about de Stal's Mediterranean pictures, "The paintings from the last three years of his life are distinguished by the sheer brio of their effect. His landscapes of the south of France or of Sicily possess a 'synthetist' quality reminiscent of Gauguin and the Fauves. Many stand fast by reason of their exuberant optimism and the radiance of their light" (exh. cat. Nicholas de Stal, Tate Gallery, London, 1981, p. 15).
(fig. 1) Nicholas de Stal in his rue Gauguet studio with the present painting center left; July 1954