François Stahly

L'été de la forêt 1966

In 1966 the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris mounted a retrospective that introduced sculptor François Stahly to the general public. L’été de la forêt received special acclaim. In an interview, Stahly said of it:

‘This set gave me a whole new impetus, which  in sculpture is akin to the idea of the sacred’.

Aware as he was of the ornamental role assigned to sculpture in the context of architectural commissions, Stahly decided to rid himself of all constraint by creating an independent monumental set.

L’été de la forêt at Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate at Tarrytown.


Working in the haven of peace that was the garden at his Meudon studio, as of 1960 he slowly put together L’été de la forêt, with no commission, no constraints, no budget and no schedule.

Inspiration came from memories of the high Swiss forests of his childhood, and from the primeval stands he discovered in his frequent stays in the United States. Stahly put into this work ‘the authentic respiration’ that would make it one of his major productions.

From this ‘sacred wood’ emanates a benevolent force, an indefinable feeling of mystery that inhabits its oaken uprights and stacked conic sections, shaped by the chisel to form a magic circle whose symbolic threshold is marked by two tall pieces leaning one against the other.

L’été de la forêt in the garden of the studio at Meudon.


Its skyward thrust expresses the artist’s innate desire to interact with the cosmos, ‘the desire to go beyond the self, the desire to communicate with all that is living.’

In reply to an interviewer who asked him: What is sculpture: poetry, mysticism? Stahly said straight off: ‘Yes, a mysticism’.

L’été de la forêt, which we are honoured to present in a preview at the Friche de l’Escalette, was last seen in public at the 1966 Musée des Arts Décoratifs show.

In the more than half a century since then it guarded the grounds of  Kykuit, the Rockefeller family home for the past four generations, at Tarrytown in the Hudson Valley north of New York.

Nelson Rockefeller, a fervent admirer of Stahly’s work, had purchased it for his property. When his estate was put up for auction in January 2019, it came back to France.

Stahly is quoted in italics in the text. Pierre Mougin 2019.

‘(…) Nowadays, with the threat of pollution constantly growing, we are starting to feel our affinities with clouds, waters, leaves, and lands, it may be then that in François Stahly we see the first modern sculptor of environment, the first to conceive again of sculpture as a place where it might be possible to be together.’

Pierre Descargues.
François Stahly, éditions la connaissance, Brussels, 1975.

‘(…) there was Arp and Brancusi: for the insiders, but also the discovery of primitive sculptures and, beyond forms, the craving for the pure sources that quench the thirst of the spiritual fathers (…) which teach the love of life and keep alive the gift of  wonderment before the world that it is given to approach through certain aspects of art.’

François Mathey
François Stahly exhibition catalogue, musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris, 1966.


exhibitionFrançois Stahly