Nicolas de Staël was a Russian artist born into a family with links to the Tsars and forced to emigrate following the October Revolution of 1917. He was educated in Belgium, where he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Saint-Gilles in Brussels. To earn a living he worked as a scene painter. He visited several Spanish regions, among them the Balearic Islands, before travelling to Morocco, Algiers and Italy. In 1938 he settled in Paris and was introduced to the French capital’s artistic circles. He moved to Nice in 1940 where he coincided with numerous artists and intellectuals fleeing the Nazi occupation of France. It was during this period that he abandoned portraiture and still life in a figurative style to devote himself to abstraction, in which he employed real objects. Throughout his life de Staël maintained a dialogue with literature, poetry and music; he worked with poets and writers such as Pierre Lecuire and René Char, producing engravings to illustrate their books.
His abstract work reached its maximum expression in the early 1950s, following which he returned to figurative painting (landscape, figuration and still life). A consequence of stays in Sicily and Provence, his palette acquired brilliant flat colours, and at the height of his success he retired to the French town of Antibes. His rate of production increased in line with the depth of his depression, and in 1955 he committed suicide. De Staël’s work has been exhibited in the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris (1956), the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1956), the Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence (1972), the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1981), the Fundació Caixa Catalunya, Barcelona (2007) and the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny (Switzerland, 2010). The following European and American public collections hold his work: the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, the Tate Collection in London, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, among others.