Christie’s might do it again. That is, they might break a record set with a painting by Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955) they sold in a New York auction for $12.1 million with, you guessed it, another de Staël painting. This year, it’s the Russian-born French artist’s Parc des Princes (1952) they’re selling and it is estimated to fetch as much as €25 million (£22.8 million) potentially doubling the previous record that was set in May of last year.
De Staël’s career was quite short, only about 15 years, but in that time, he painted more than 1,000 paintings. His abstracted landscapes and still lifes earned him international recognition. Through bold colours, heavy impasto, and a tendency towards rectangular shapes, he was able to convey entire scenes without the usual components. ‘I do not set abstract painting as an opposition to figuration,’ de Staël once said. ‘A painting should be both abstract and figurative: abstract to the extent that it is a flat surface, figurative to the extent that it is a representation of space.’ Parc des Princes is a perfect example of precisely this. It is also one of 26 paintings that he made after watching a football match between France and Sweden that was held in Paris at Parc des Princes stadium on March 26th, 1952.
Another reason the painting’s pre-sale estimate starts at €18 million ($20.2 million) is because this stands to be the first time the painting has ever come to auction. After de Staël’s untimely death in 1955, the large-scale painting was passed onto his heirs and it has remained with them ever since. Although this is the first time in its 64-year history that it will hit the auction block, it isn’t the first time the painting has been on show. It was first exhibited the year it was painted at the Salon and it was a hit from the beginning. It has been the centre of multiple exhibitions since, including many long after the death of the artist.
The timing of the sale, planned for October 17th coinciding with FIAC (International Contemporary Art Fair), is also unusual. As pointed out by Artsy, if Parc des Princes were to be offered during Frieze London, which runs just prior to the sale, it would be one of the highest selling lots ever at the Frieze. Instead, Christie’s has chosen to forgo the London fair for FIAC, where there have historically been less high-profile sales like this. Thus, Christie’s is placing serious emphasis on the stronghold Paris may be once Brexit goes through, particularly if a no-deal plan of action goes into effect on October 31st.
While the timing and place of the sale hold a lot of weight in an art market that is partially holding its breath, it also makes for a nice full-circle moment. The painting is making a homecoming of sorts to be sold in the country that de Staël called home for so much of his life.