Since the 1980s one of our distinctive features as a gallery was bringing hitherto little known artists, or at least not households, to the attention of our clients – 20th century painters, mainly French, capable of extraordinary work but perhaps unable to sustain a career at the very highest level. Thirty years ago there seemed to be a limitless supply of such artists, via our network of contacts among dealers, auctions and estates. Nowadays it’s hard to find other than a few isolated works.
Our artist of the month for May, Jacques Nestlé (German 1907-1991), reminds me of those times. He is not a household name, but a remarkable artist with a unique vision who was well respected by the avant-garde painters of his time. Only recently has he been the subject of a couple of retrospective exhibitions and his prices remain eminently affordable. They also capture perfectly the chic spirit of 1950s and 1960s Paris that is so much in vogue now.
I only came across Nestle’s works some years ago though our agent in Paris, Hélène de Saint Chamas. She had noticed them coming up for sale at small, largely provincial fairs and markets where they were usually offered unframed and in portfolios of 20 or more, and she started purchasing the best ones she saw. She organised a small show with the Parisian fabric designers, Maison Antoine d’Albiousse (images shown here) and we were planning an exhibition before Covid struck. Small retrospective exhibitions of his paintings had been held in 2009 in Berlin, in 2012 at the Mairie of the 16ème arrondissement in Paris, and in 2013 at the Saarlandmuseum in his hometown. More recently, galleries as far afield as Russia, America, Dubai and the Lebanon have been promoting Nestle’s works, and we have heard talk of a major French museum acquiring some examples of his work.
Jacques Nestlé paintings hanging at Maison Antoine d’Albiousse, Paris.
Nestlé was born in Saarbrücken, a German town close to the French border and at the age of 16 he went to Paris where he lived among the artists and galleries of Saint Germain-des-Prés. It was there that he had the good fortune to meet Henri Matisse. He showed the master some of his drawings, received encouragement and was given the best possible advice for any young artist: “Listen to everything that is said, look at everything that is done, and do what you want.” Nestlé later commented “Honestly, it was already what I did”.
In the 1930s he lived and worked in Berlin, exhibiting at the Berlin Secession and associating with the artist of Berlin’s Bauhaus. He returned to Paris towards the end of the 1930s, and soon after the war Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler suggested to Nestlé that he would like to promote his work, but Nestlé did not respond positively to this invitation. He subsequently described himself with forced modesty as “Neither a painter nor an artist, I am simply a man who paints”, and after the war Nestlé lived happily and without ostentation on the proceeds of his art. In the early 1950s he briefly experimented with geometric abstraction but, partly influenced by American abstract expressionism and specifically Robert Motherwell, Nestlé turned to a more spontaneous creative process. From thence onwards Nestlé’s art deliberately positions itself part way between figurative and abstract art, developing a personalised expression of inner emotions with elegance and restraint.
Jacques Nestlé painting hanging at Maison Antoine d’Albiousse, Paris.
All images in this article are of paintings by Jacques Nestlé hanging at Maison Antoine d’Albiousse, Paris, and are reproduced with their kind permission - www.antoinedalbiousse.fr
For more information on the artist, please visit his Artist page HERE.