Nicolas Stael

Nicolas Stael

French painter
Date of Birth: 05.01.1914
Country: France

Biography of Nicolas de Staël

Nicolas de Staël was a French painter of Russian descent, widely regarded as one of the greatest masters of post-war European art. He was born in 1914, the son of Vladimir Stael von Holstein, the last commandant of the Petropavlovsk Fortress and a general in the Russian army. After the revolution, his family was forced to emigrate to Poland in 1919. His father passed away in 1921, followed by his mother in 1922.

Nicolas Stael

With the help of his godmother, Nicolas was adopted by a Belgian Catholic family in 1922. He grew up in a multicultural and multilingual environment. In 1932, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgium, where he discovered the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Hercules Segers. He traveled extensively throughout Europe and lived in Paris, Morocco, Algeria, Spain, and Italy.

In 1936, his first exhibition, which showcased works influenced by Byzantine icon painting, took place in Brussels. In 1939, Nicolas enlisted as a volunteer in the Foreign Legion and was demobilized in 1941. He settled in Nice, where he met Hans (Jean) Arp, Sonia and Robert Delaunay. Under their influence, he turned to abstract art in 1941 and, after being initially influenced by Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, and Soutine, he independently synthesized his own expressive non-figurative style, parallel to the search for American abstract expressionism and French Tachism.

In 1943, Nicolas returned to Paris and met Jean Bracq. In 1944, he exhibited alongside Wassily Kandinsky at the Jeanne Bucher gallery, and the following year, he had his solo exhibition there. In 1948, he became friends with Johnny Friedlaender, a German-born artist living in Paris. Nicolas gained recognition, and in the early 1950s, he became known in the United States and the United Kingdom. He illustrated books of poems by René Char (1951) and Pierre Lecuire (1954). His palette lightened, and he partially returned to figurative art.

In 1953, Nicolas de Staël experienced a severe nervous crisis and sought refuge in the south of France, where he tragically took his own life by jumping out of the window of his studio in Antibes. Despite his short career, spanning only fifteen years, he left behind over 1000 works. In 2003, 52 of his paintings were showcased in an exhibition at the State Hermitage Museum.