The artist who lives upstairs

29 juin 2017

"Painting is as delicate as love". Nicolas de Staël shells out for this premonitory word, in a letter to his art dealer Jacques Dubourg, sent from Antibes, at the end of December 1954. On March, 16th 1955, the artist kills himself, at the top of his art, by throwing himself from a window of his studio at 41.

Antibes, terminus.

« Please, help! A man is dead ! ». This scream which tears the peace of the old Antibes comes out from a lady who was walking in Revely Street, just behind the harbor. She saw a mass on the ground, lying on the sidewalk, which she recognized immediately as a man shape. Dressed with a shirt, a jacket, blue pants and espadrilles, the dead man is quickly recognized by a curious neighbor as “the artist who lives upstairs”. Upstairs, it’s the apartment’s terrace where the artist moved in last October. 

Ce peintre, ce n'est pas n'importe qui, c'est l'une des meilleurs de son époque, Nicolas de Staël, une gloire moderne du milieu de l'Art qui vient de laisser sa vie sur un trottoir d'Antibes. Suicidé, au zénith d'une carrière qui avait mis du temps à démarrer.

“Tomorrow, we cut water and gas”

Nicolas de Staël, borned 41 years earlier in Saint Petersburg in Russia. His parents disappeared during the October Revolution in November 1917 and he was placed in a host family in Brussels. Famous descendant of the painter Joseph Fricero, from Nice, who at the XIXth century married one of the daughters of the Tsar, Nicolas 1 of Russia. After studying in Art school, Nicolas decided to launch himself in an artist career. Attracted as a magnet by the Midi light, he moved in the South of France where he meets Jeannine Gaillou, former lodger of the school Arts Déco from Nice. Love at first sight. The Beauty quits his husband for de Staël, after some travels in Alger and in Italy, they move in Nice and a little girl will born promptly from their love in 1942 in the capital of the French Riviera. At this time, the Russian artist paints abstracts pictures, guided by an odd geometry which stays in his mind. He gets friend with the abstract Italian painter, Alberto Magnelli, who lives and works at the Plan de Grasse. But if there is no lack of love and inspiration, it is money that is lacking. An anecdote relates that Jeanine paintings sales, herself artist as well, support the home.  She confirmed it in a letter, “I got an agreement who allows us to live well enough for few months and thanks to this contract Nicolas has been able to look for his own style in painting”. Jacques Matarasso, bookseller is one the first to collect  paintings by Nicolas de Staël, remembers “they lived in a pathetic apartment, an horrible place, where he broke some furniture to head it up…”. After left Nice for Paris, and turned to Kandinsky or César Domela, his painting progresses, but life is still so difficult: "We cut water and gas tomorrow," reveals a letter of 1945 in which de Stael begs for some money. Sick, exhausted by privations, Jeannine Guilloux dies. 

While his personal horizon darkened, his artistic fate will progress in the late 1940s when his works began, timidly, to sell, especially in America. Nicolas de Staël remarries with Françoise Chapouton and knows again the happiness of being father, three times. Having never forgotten his first inspiration, he wants to rediscover the light of the South. By settling again in the South of France, he will find it again as he had left "violent of luminous contrasts". But in the Luberon he will lose his reason.

Pretty Jeanne

In 1953, after a first stopover with his family in Le Lavandou in the Var, he settled in the Luberon in Lagnes, near Apt, in Mathieu's house, introduced by their friend the poet René. Surrounded by his family, happy in painting and satisfied by the light, Nicolas de Stael finds in addition that the owner of Mathieu’s house  is of a rare beauty. Her brown hair shimmers under the sun. He falls in love with her. Madly and madly to the point of losing the reason. He writes to his friend Rene Char "Jeanne has come to us with qualities of harmony of such vigor that we are still dazzled by it." Such a pretty girl, The Earth trembles with emotion! What a disturbance in the prevailing order. What a place, what a girl! "

This meeting triggers a tornado in the artist's head, Jeanne obsesses him. To the point of offering him to accompany him with his family while traveling in Italy. The journey runs short, the unbearable situation brings back the little troupe to Lagnes where De Stael suddenly sends back his family to Paris, to remain alone, to paint alone and to find "his breath which escapes him". He settled in Ménerbes in the Vaucluse. He irremediably approaches Jeanne, he paints her and makes love to her. Landscapes and nudes take turns at the time, the fruit of his electrical connection with the young Provencal. He wants to marry her, because, for him, a Russian Prince is respectable. But Jeanne is frightened by this too powerful love, she does not want to leave her husband for De Stael. She gets tired of their relationship, refuses him, and, unfortunately, lets  him know. In September 1954, Nicolas settled in Antibes. The luminous landscapes of Cannes, Cagnes, Nice, Fort Carre d'Antibes await him. In six months, he produced more than three hundred and fifty paintings - one-third of the totality of his work! He painted Jeanne from memory. Jeanne naked, Jeanne standing, Jeanne lying down. Jeanne emerges from a fog of tender colors. In 2011, the blue coated table will exceed € 7 million. Nicolas wants to see Jeanne again. But, on March 14, 1955, she refused him again. Then Nicolas makes a package of the letters she has written to him and goes to give them to her husband saying: "You have won!". On the 16th of March, returning to Antibes, he leaves his studio, closes the door behind him, and goes up to the terrace of the building. And throws himself into the void.

Moraldi the exalted nature

Profoundly exalted by the pictorial achievements of composers and masters such as Nicolas de Stael, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Antoni Clavé and Antoni Tàpies, Moraldi works relentlessly on the visual and graphic interpretation of his subject Predilection: nature. By means of acrylic paint combined with a bright and intense palette, the artist creates abstract paintings composed of a multitude of colors that are superimposed on the many flat layers previously applied. The result of years of research and reflection, Moraldi's pictorial works are powerfully modern and offer the viewer an interpretation that is always personal and sensitive, but which is meant to be temporary because it is continually being written, in the image of his subject , which is eternally transformed and renewed.