Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The concert and the final painting


The trouble with being endlessly curious is that there's always something else you'd like to know. Perhaps curiosity is a prerequisite of being a writer, or a storyteller at least: you are searching for a coherent narrative, striving to flesh it with detail.

So when I wrote yesterday about Nicolas de Staël listening to an orchestral concert in Paris and being so affected by the music that he rushed back to his painting studio in Antibes, I realised almost as soon as I had posted that I couldn't leave it at that. What was the music that had struck him so deeply? What was the last painting he worked on so feverishly and left incomplete?

When I found out, the answer was so poignant and made sense of an image I'd seen previously without understanding its significance, that I had to come back with a postscript.


To some extent this PS is also a correction of various details in the first post. It's a given that the more research you do, the more unreliable initial sources are proved to be, and so it is with this story. For example, I found a photograph of the building in Antibes where de Staël had his studio, which cannot possibly have been on the fourth floor:


There were also suggestions that a failed love affair - "un amour d'idiot" - had contributed to his despair, rather than the disparaging critic. As for the music, it seems the artist attended two concerts in Paris: the first featured pieces by one of his favourite avant garde composers, the Austrian Anton Webern, and the second - the crucial one - was a performance of Schoenberg's Serenade for Seven Instruments and Bass Voice (op. 24).

 

The Schoenberg concert was on March 6th, 1955, and it seems that the drama of de Staël's overnight flight south to begin painting followed almost immediately by his death was just that: a dramatic myth.

If he died on March 16th, then he painted feverishly for at least a week. But when you see what he produced in that time, it's certainly possible to believe that he hardly stopped for food or rest.

His penultimate canvas was The Piano (reproduced above) which was more than two metres by one and a half metres in size. And the artist's last, unfinished work, was The Concert, a truly massive six metres by three and a half.




7 comments:

Leovi said...

Definitely a small world history of painting very interesting.

Libby said...

Wow - Deborah! What a great post..fascinating!

The paintings are really striking; I did not know this artist.

Evelyn said...

I love the brillant color contrasted with the black piano in the first painting. Thanks for adding the music...not a piece that would inspire me, but obviously it resonated with the artist! Where are his works displayed? I'd love to see them.

MuMuGB said...

I have always loved Nicoals de Stael's paintings. There is something incredibly pure in them. He was suffering from depression and had had a bad meeting with an art critic before his sudden death. As for the woman he loved, Jeanne Mathieu, apparently she felt that he was a bit too intense. A talented and complicated man...

Forest Dream Weaver said...

Deborah,your blog is a mine of information! Thanks for sharing the results of your investigations.I've always found Elizabeth David's work inspirational and de Stael's paintings are simply brilliant.

Ruby

louciao said...

Intriguing story and well-illustrated here. I do enjoy your sleuthing ways.

Vanessa said...

This was fascinating. Although I had heard of him, I knew very little about him. Blogging has brought me in contact with all sorts of interesting stuff of which I would have been ignorant otherwise.

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