Lot 54. Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955), Ciel, signed 'Staël' (lower right); signed again and dated 'Staël 1953' (on the reverse), oil on canvas, 39 ¼ x 28 ¾ in. (100 x 73 cm.) Painted in 1953. Estimate USD 300,000 - USD 500,000. Price realised USD 1,335,000. © Christie's Image Ltd 2019.
Provenance: Paul Rosenberg, New York (by November 1953).
Galerie Philippe Reichenbach, Paris (by November 1956).
Sarah Campbell-Blaffer, Houston (acquired from the above).
Cecil “Titi” Blaffer von Fürstenberg, Houston (by descent from the above).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
Literature: J. Dubourg and F. de Staël, eds., Nicolas de Staël: Catalogue raisonné des peintures, Paris, 1968, p. 242, no. 541 (illustrated).
F. de Staël, ed., Nicolas de Staël: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Neuchâtel, 1997, p. 405, no. 568 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited: New York, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Nicolas de Staël, May 2013, p. 18, no. 2 (illustrated in color, p. 19; dated 1952).
Note: Nicolas de Staël’s Ciel was painted during a brief period between 1952 and 1954, during which time he produced some of his most important and celebrated works. It was then that he decided to retire the use of the putty-knife in favor of a wider tool, the spatula, which allowed him to lay down even larger planes of color. Through these thick and broad applications of color, de Staël’s Ciel evokes a blustery sky atop a thin sliver of land. The adjacent and overlapping bands of paint recall the techniques familiar to de Staël’s Impressionist fore-bearers (though significantly magnified in size and reduced in number), and his camaraderie with contemporaries in Paris who took on the surface of the painting as the support—and site—for both material thickness and visual facticity. In other of de Staël’s landscapes and seascapes that feature open sky or a horizon line, compositions are most usually level and extremely horizontal with blocks or ribbons of colors evenly stacked or arranged stop one another. It is a special characteristic of Ciel that it features a dynamic composition produced by the triangular and diagonal applications of paint, and a tilted horizon line, drawing similarity to other periods of de Staël’s career wherein he represented (or implied) movement with lively figures in 1953 or worked through zestful abstract compositions of 1950 (and earlier).
Ciel was painted 1953, the same year that the artist participated in the Venice Biennale and the year after his significant 1952 exhibition in London at the Matthiesen Gallery. At this time, “…[de] Staël was considered by many to be the most significant new painter to emerge in post-war Europe. …artists fell immediately under his influence: his thick impasto and sensuous handling of the paint were imitated, and the kind of abstract painting that his work of 1948-52 represented seemed to offer an example that was particularly relevant to those younger...painters then on the verge of abstraction but also reluctant to lose all contact with nature and the figure” (A. Bowness, Nicolas de Staël, London, 1981, p. 5). In the United States, while not immune to the rivalry between American and French artists throughout the 1950s, de Staël was included in the important exhibition Young Painters in the U.S. and France organized by Leo Castelli for Sidney Janis Gallery, alongside compatriot Americans including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko.
Christie's. Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, New York, 13 May 2019