Catalogue entry

Victor Vasarely born 1908 [- 1997]

T00461 Nives II1949-1958

Inscribed on back of canvas 'Vasarely | "NIVES II" 195 X 114 | 1949-1958'
Oil on canvas, 76 3/4 x 45 (195 x 114)
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1961
Prov:Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased from the artist through the Hanover Gallery, London)
Exh:Vasarely, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, January-February 1960 (6); Vasarely, Hanover Gallery, London, October-November 1961 (10, repr.)
Repr:The Listener, LXVI, 1961, p.707; Metro: International Directory of Contemporary Art 1964(Milan 1964), p.387 in colour; Michael Compton, Optical and Kinetic Art(London 1967), pl.7 in colour

This is a work from Vasarely's period known as Gordes-Crystal which developed as a result of his stay in the Provençal hill town of Gordes (Vaucluse) in the summer of 1948, and which had an important influence on much of his work for the following six or seven years. He has described how he began there by making drawings of the town using traditional linear perspective but soon noticed that from a certain distance, in the intense light of the sun, there appeared to be a contradictory perspective. 'Never can the eye identify to what a given shadow or strip of wall belongs: solids and voids merge into one another, forms and backgrounds alternate ... Thus identifiable things are transmuted into abstractions, and, passing over the threshold of the Gestalt, begin their own independent life' (cf. Marcel Joray, Vasarely, Neuchâtel 1969, p.29). This led him to return to the use of axonometric perspective, which he had employed in a number of his drawings of the 1930s, and to work with flat geometrical forms, an interchangeability of figure and ground, and shifting forms.

He wrote (letter of 27 March 1962) that this particular picture was conceived at Gordes in 1949 and remained there unfinished until 1956. Brought to Arcueil (Paris), it was completed in 1958 and was exhibited for a short time at the Galerie Denise René. Its first real exhibition was in his major one-man exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, in 1960.

The theme underwent various modifications both in form and colour and is the basis of his Crystal period. The series began with 'Nives' 1948, a small painting of 35 x 20cm, which was followed by a larger but otherwise almost identical painting 'Nives I' 1948-9, measuring 130 x 70cm. (Both were then still in his possession). These two pictures are somewhat different from the one acquired by the Tate not only in form but in colour: the central form is in broken pink and orange, the surrounding area is madder-coloured and the surfaces are matt instead of satiny. 'Nives II' 1949-58 is the principal work of the series and was followed by two variants 'Nives III' 35 x 20cm (coll. Denise René) and 'Nives IV' 1949-58, 49 x 32.5cm (then still in his possession).

It is Vasarely's practice to give his abstract paintings names of geographical origin (ancient towns, rivers, mountains, etc.), the finished canvas inspiring the choice of name. Nives is the name of a small town in Belgium.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.744-5, reproduced p.744