Who was the artist Nicolas de Staël?

The artist Nicolas de Staël was one of the most important figures in the post-war abstract art movement—while personally refusing to belong to any artistic group or movement. His work, which oscillated between figuration and abstraction, was concentrated over a period of just fifteen years—from 1940 until his tragic death in 1955.

In Paris, the painter Nicolas de Staël discovered the works of the artist Georges Braque, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Chaïm Soutine. The painter travelled to Spain, where he made numerous sketches. Nicolas de Staël also travelled to Morocco and Italy. The painter then moved to Paris, where he lived in very precarious conditions. For a time, the artist took classes at the Académie Fernand Léger, while also copying works of art at the Louvre. Two months before the outbreak of the war, the painter met the gallery owner Jeanne Bucher, who would promote his work. Nicolas de Staël was drafted for military service between January and September 1940 and joined the Foreign Legion. He moved to Nice in France’s ‘Free Zone’ in September 1940, marking the start of a new life in equally precarious conditions but this time under the light of the Mediterranean sun. Nicolas de Staël continued to pursue his pictorial investigations and created his first artworks, which presented a mixture of cubism and fauvism. Surrounded by a group of artist friends—including Alberto and Suzie Magnelli, Henri Goetz and Christine Boumeester, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Fred Klein and Marie Raymond— Nicolas de Staël established his own style. Locking himself up in his studio for days at a time, the artist painted a lot but destroyed as much as he produced. Starting in 1942, the artist began exploring abstraction. His works were composed of distinct geometric shapes standing out from solid grey backgrounds.

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