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.