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Nicolas de Stael

introduction

Nicolas de Staël was born into a family of Russian aristocrats, the Staël-Holstein, on 5 January 1914 in Saint Petersburg and committed suicide on 16 March 1955 in Antibes. Following the October Revolution, the family was forced to emigrate to Poland in 1919. Nicolas was orphaned and was entrusted to the Fricero family in Brussels with his two sisters, Marina and Olga, in 1922. The Fricero pushed him to study engineering but once he had finished, they allowed him to study painting. After visiting the Netherlands, where he discovered Flemish painting and the Dutch masters Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hercules Seghers, he enrolled at the Académie Royale Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1933 where he attended classical drawing classes with Henri van Haelen. He became friends with Madeleine Haupert who attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and introduced him to abstract painting. He also enrolled at the Académie de Beaux-Arts in Saint-Gilles where he took classes in architecture and design which led to his creation of the murals in the agriculture pavilion at the Brussels International Exposition in 1935.

Nicolas de Staël travelled throughout Europe: to the South of France and Paris where he discovered Cézanne, Matisse, Soutine, Braque, Sonia Delaunay, Arp, and Magnelli. Then he went to Spain, where he was impressed by the landscapes, and the intense colours he encountered in Morocco and Italy. Nicolas de Staël was active over a period of fifteen years — from 1940 to 1955 — and produced more than a thousand works; he painted frenetically while destroying a number of his works. A tormented soul, he also felt free to experiment, discover the elementary rhythms of nature and penetrate the mysteries of reality through abstraction.

From 1942 to 1950, he gave his body and soul to abstract painting even though he didn’t like to be defined as an abstract painter. He was conscious that "the painter will always need to have before his eyes, up close or far away, the moving source that is the world of the senses". In 1952, he told Théodore Schempp, an art dealer and broker to whom he sent his paintings: "All my life, I’ve needed to think painting, to see paintings, to do painting to help me survive, to free myself from all the impressions, all the feelings, all the worries for which I’ve never found any way out other than painting".

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