Nicolas de Staël
Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris – Sep 15 to Jan 21, 2023 Paris (France)
The Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris is devoting a major retrospective to Nicolas de Staël, a key figure on the post-war French art scene. Twenty years after the one organised by the Centre Pompidou in 2003, this exhibition offers a fresh look at the artist’s work, drawing on more recent thematic exhibitions that have highlighted certain little-known aspects of his career (Antibes in 2014, Le Havre in 2014, Aix-en-Provence in 2018).
The retrospective brings together a selection of around 200 paintings, drawings, prints and notebooks from numerous public and private collections in Europe and the United States. Alongside such emblematic masterpieces as Parc des Princes, it presents an important group of works that have rarely, if ever, been exhibited, including around fifty shown for the first time in a French museum.
Organised chronologically, the exhibition traces the artist’s successive developments, from his first figurative steps and his dark, thickly-painted canvases of the 1940s, to his paintings on the eve of his premature death in 1955. Although the bulk of his work was completed in a dozen years, Staël never ceased to renew himself and explore new avenues: his “inevitable need to break everything when the machine seems to be running too smoothly” led him to produce a remarkably rich and complex body of work, “without any a priori aesthetic”. Unaffected by the fashions and quarrels of his time, his work deliberately overturns the distinction between abstraction and figuration, and appears to be the pursuit, carried out in an emergency, of an ever denser and more concise art: “Life is so sad without paintings that I go for it as long as I can,” he wrote.
The retrospective allows us to follow this pictorial quest of rare intensity step by step, beginning with his youthful travels and his first years in Paris, his time in the Vaucluse, his famous trip to Sicily in 1953, and finally his last months in Antibes, in a studio facing the sea.