Nicolas De Staël’s impressive Composition 1950, last shown in public at the Pompidou Centre’s De Staël retrospective in 2003 will be one of the highlights at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale on June 3. This offer coincides with the centenary of the birth of Nicolas de Staël (1914-55). This monumental oil on canvas (6ft 7in x 13ft 1in) was the largest canvas he had ever painted when it was bought by Denys Sutton (1917-91) in 1950. It has remained in Sutton’s family ever since. It is estimated to fetch €2,5-3,5 million ($3,4-4,8 million).
Denys Sutton was an accomplished and committed British art critic who edited Apollo magazine for over 25 years, and also curated numerous landmark exhibitions (devoted to Constable, Picasso, Matisse among others) in the 1960s and ’70s. Sutton met De Staël in Paris at the end of the 1940s, and convinced him to show his works in England. De Staël duly went to London in the summer of 1950, and wrote about being electrified by the city’s light and space.
De Staël was then at a crossroads in his career, and this painting counts as a key stage in his evolution as a painter – one that saw him replace his previous thick, intermeshing lines with the broad, simple expanses of paint that helped this painting breathe. Composition is his most monumental work, just after The Concert (1955) in the Picasso Museum in Antibes.
Nicolas de Staël was well aware of the change in his creative approach, noting: ‘I think we can say that my way of suggesting space in painting is totally new.’3 Composition 1950 stands out as a tour de force that majestically embodies his new technique and offers a perfect synthesis of his different styles of painting. Three years of feverish, passionate work enabled his painting to acquire its exceptional, dense and velvety matter.
From June to November, two exhibitions – at the Musée Malraux in Le Havre and Musée Picasso in Antibes – will pay tribute to an artist who continues to enjoy great popularity in the United States and throughout Europe, as well as in his adopted France.