Nicolas de Staël

Portrait d’Anne | Nu couché bleu

Part Nine Chapter 7

The transformation of awkwardness into grace, the paradox of impetuosity and patience: Waiting in the salon, I study a framed poster of Nicolas de Staël’s Portrait d’Anne. As I configure the colours—ultramarine and crimson, lead white and yellow—into the form of a girl, her decided step, her gangling gait, evoke you. Ingrid is downstairs, on the phone with her agent, while Joost is at his grandparents and you, Klaas and Lia are out skating. As scarlet bleeds into grey-blue, I wonder: Does Ingrid know that as de Staël transcended the opposition between figuration and abstraction, he was in the throes of a love affair that would kill him? Does she know, when she contemplates the violence of his palette-knife, that this violence was his means of penetrating to the tenderness underlying his heartbreak? And when she listens to the silence that resonates in his colours, does she have any idea of the vehemence of the feelings that would drive him to his death? Hopelessly in love with another man’s wife, he wrote a letter to Anne, his thirteen-year old daughter, before he threw himself from the tower in Antibes. In vain he’d left his family and implored his beloved to live with him; in vain he’d tried to reconcile wife and mistress. A fury of work—nearly a hundred canvases in a few weeks—brought no salvation. Shortly after he’d left a letter to Anne on a table in his studio, a streetlight picked out his shattered body on the pavement.

Nicolas de Staël, Portrait d’Anne, 1953

Nicolas de Staël, Nu couché bleu, 1955

Part Three Chapter 4

Is she crushed by scarlet, is passion spent, or is she still striving to lose herself in vermilion? Is she opening her legs to cool her loins, or busting her gut to come? Languorous elegance, violent frustration, the blue nude with head thrown back, black hair limp and damp, traces the contours of my confusion: Nicolas de Staël’s Nu couché bleu testifies to the mystery of sex.

NICOLAS DE STAËL, LUMIÈRES DU NORD, LUMIÈRES DU SUD : Musée d’art moderne André Malraux, Le Havre