De Staël was born in St Petersburg. The Revolution of 1919 caused his family to leave Russia and move first to Poland, then Brussels, where Nicolas studied art. He travelled widely in the 1930s, settling in Paris in 1938, where he studied briefly under Léger. After the Second World War de Staël earned a reputation as a leading abstract painter, using blocks of thick paint and tangled webs of lines in his work. In 1952 he began to reassert the importance of subject matter in his painting and moved away from using the impasto paint of his earlier paintings.