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George Stave was born on July 29, 1923, in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in nearby Salinas. He returned to Los Angeles at the age of 17, having won a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute (today California Institute of the Arts). There he studied with Henry Lee McFee. Privately, he studied with Nicolai Fechin.

In his early 20s Stave worked as a set painter in the art department of Paramount Studios. From 1945 to 1948, he was a painting instructor at the Jepson Art Institute (which closed in 1954). During this period, he exhibited annually at the Los Angeles County Museum.

Stave moved to Paris in 1949 and studied painting at the Académie Julian. In 1951 he was awarded a Fulbright Act grant for a year of study in India, and thereafter he traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia and Japan, studying and collecting art.

When he arrived in New York City in the mid-1950s, he was briefly a student of the abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell at Hunter College. He also took classes at the Art Students League.

With his family, Stave moved to Cranbury, New Jersey, in 1958. For most of his career, he worked as a set painter for NBC Studios and, later, Lincoln Scenic Studios, both in New York City. He was a member of the United Scenic Artists union. At the same time, easel painting remained Stave's deepest passion, and in the 1970s he was able to build a garret studio in his Cranbury home. By the 1980s his work regularly appeared in galleries and museums in New York City and New Jersey. His last exhibition was held in 2009, and he passed away on August 26, 2011.

Although Stave had experimented with pure abstraction in the early days, he found much more satisfaction in the practice of close observation. Like the Dutch artists of the seventeenth century, Stave embraced landscape, still life, and interiors. His aim was truthful representation melded with the effects of light. He also loved the medium of paint. His work may seem photographic at first glance, but Stave never let his brushstrokes disappear. He found inspiration in works by Diego Velázquez, John Singer Sargent, Walter Gay, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, and Giorgio Morandi.

Stave explored the back roads and small towns of New Jersey and Pennsylvania in search of visually interesting subjects, and he was repeatedly drawn to nineteenth-century houses and farms, glimpses of a fading past. He also returned over and over again to the Jersey shore. His search for landscapes and cityscapes continued in various locales across the United States, as well as Italy, France, Portugal, and Haiti. Stave's remarkable still life arrangements were typically painted in his studio, where he had complete control of the light. His interiors captured quiet, intimate spaces in the homes of family and friends.

As noted in 1990 by Joseph Keiffer, a fellow artist and New York art dealer, "Stave's paintings are characterized by great courage in the face of enormously complex subjects and by a startling clarity of vision." Today, most of Stave's work is in private collections.