Le violoniste bleu

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  • Provenance

    Collection of Madame Maurice Raynal, Paris
    Christie’s, New York, 12 November 1992, Lot 165
    Private Collection, Montreal
    Private Collection (thence by descent)
    Sotheby’s, New York, 6 May 2015, Lot 141
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    London, The Leicester Galleries, Marc Chagall, April - May 1935, no. 14

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Marc Chagall’s Le violoniste bleu, the titular musician sits while playing, utterly absorbed in his music, eyes closed in dream-like concentration. This poetic gouache is filled with the blues and purples of the twilight hours, which are present in so many of Chagall’s greatest works. It is a lyrical time of music, magic and mystery.

    This picture was formerly in the collection of the wife of the prominent French art critic Maurice Raynal, who was considered to be an important standard-bearer for Cubism.

    The work dates from 1929, when the technique of gouache was an important focus for Chagall in his artistic practice. He had just produced the etchings to accompany Les Fables by La Fontaine, which were commissioned by the legendary dealer Ambroise Vollard. They were published years later, in 1952, but the friendship of the two began much earlier through an introduction by the poet Blaise Cendrars. Vollard would become Chagall’s mentor and source of inspiration, opening new doors for him with his concepts for print projects. This allowed the artist to establish himself in Paris following his return from Vitebsk, where he had been living for five years after the Bolshevik Revolution, in 1922. Chagall’s appointment as Fine Arts Commissioner for the Vitebsk region saw him working alongside the avant-garde artistic leaders in Moscow, Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky. Le violoniste bleu is a dreamy picture filled with poetry and music. It depicts a romantic scene recalling serenades, quite afar from the rigors of Suprematist aspirations, and yet, the quintessential lesson of Suprematism can be found in the bold use of an almost monochrome colour deployed as background, that becomes the main subject, incarnated on the blue musician. To the eyes of the Soviet power, having just accused Malevich for being a “philosophical dreamer” in 1929, the same year that this work was painted, such poetic character in Le violonist bleu would have been regarded as rebellious and anti-establishment.

    Painted in the year of the Wall Street crash, Le violonist bleu still captures the atmosphere of the Happy Twenties, coinciding with a time of prosperity for Chagall and his wife Bella. Paris had opened its doors to them and they enjoyed a period of comfort. In this ever-changing shape of the economy, Chagall conceptually captures an otherwise emotional period in between countries in this present lot. The musician is heavily rooted in Russian folklore and recalls memories of his childhood, yet the turquoise box he sits on represents the new, symbolically referring to his new home, Paris, as the flourishing capital of the arts. Far from a common bench, Chagall places the musician on a deep symbol of Parisian culture, one of the “bouquinistes”, second-hand book stall boxes that flanked the banks of the River Seine. A subtle allusion to the new city in contrast with the fiddler, which evokes the “shtetl” of his childhood, the Jewish community of Vitebsk in which he had been raised and which was to impregnate his work throughout his life, Chagall explored his nostalgic longing for the home of his first youth. In the idiosyncratic and personal memoir written a few years earlier, My Life, he vividly recollects his time in Vitebsk, “Like a cobbler… Uncle (Neuch) is playing the violin. The man who spent the whole day leading the cows into the sheds, tying their legs, and dragging them around, is playing now, playing the rabbi’s song” (M. Chagall, My Life, London, 1965, p. 25.) Images of violinists of all ages would be recurrent in his work, such as The Musician (circa 1912-1913), now in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. These figures emphasise the importance of music, cultural roots, and memory to Chagall.

    Music and colour are poetically entangled in the life and work of Chagall. It is not in vain that André Malraux, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, would appoint him years later to decorate the ceiling of Palais Garnier, the main opera house in Paris. The theme of music runs through his œuvre and was an integral component of his life. Rooted in his Jewish upbringing in Russia, where religious processions, feast days, community celebrations and weddings were filled with music, Chagall himself also possessed musical skills: he liked to sing and play the violin. Recalling his childhood dreams of becoming a musician, we see his self-portrait in the fiddler, “I’ll become a violinist. I’ll enter a conservatory.” (Benjamin Harshav, Marc Chagall and His Times: A Documentary Narrrative, Stanford, 2004, p. 112.) Although the violin would not come to be his main vocation, it did however become an emblematic motif and held a special place within his works, a symbol deeply assimilated into his artistic consciousness.

    There is yet another protagonist in this contained composition: The Moon. Crescent-shaped, towering over from the far distance, it calls to mind the Nocturnes (Musique pour la Nuit), the finest Romantic musical compositions evocative of the night mastered by the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin.

    The use of colour is where Chagall’s mastery truly lies. Picasso famously said, “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.” (Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall: A Biography, New York, 2008.) The surface of the canvas comes alive with Chagall’s use of blue. Blue is at once a colour and a mood. It subsequently becomes a genre of music inextricably associated with melancholy. This feeling, however, is balanced in Le violoniste bleu by sparkles of white, bright pink, viridian green and a splash of golden reverberation: all joyful colours. They come to punctuate the overall blue composition as in a musical partition, echoing the musical theme of the violin and visually transposing the melody. This synesthetic endeavour —to orchestrate music, shape and colour— would then be much explored by his compatriot Kandinsky, who also immigrated to France.

    In 1932 Le violoniste bleu was shown at the Leicester Galleries in London, Chagall’s first exhibition in the United Kingdom, which focused on modern British and French artists. Reginald H. Wilenski, a prominent English art historian and critic, who had published The Modern Movement in Art, wrote the foreword of the exhibition catalogue. At this stage, Chagall had been worn down by a succession of hurdles in his life, from the financial crash of 1929 to the increasing health problems of his beloved Bella. It was their daughter Ida who attended the opening, hosted by Lady Clark, the wife of Sir George Clark, the British ambassador to Paris, who coincidentally had been given painting lessons from Chagall (J. Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, London, 2008, p. 362.) Reviewing the exhibition, The Times would describe Chagall’s pictures as ‘fanciful and eccentric illustrations… transformed by a mysterious delicacy and charm of feeling’ (‘Art Exhibitions: The Leicester Galleries, The Times, 1 May 1935, p. 14, reproduced online.)

    Through the themes of music and colour, Chagall captures an emotional connection to his motherland and his past through the figure of the violinist and the Moon, while looking into the future ahead of him, represented by the Parisian symbol of the “bouquiniste”, an icon of his new city.

  • Catalogue Essay

    在夏卡爾《小提琴家 - 藍色》此幅畫作中,音樂家閉目端坐演奏著小提琴,如睡夢般深沈地凝神專注,全然浸淫於自己的音樂之中。這件充滿詩意的水粉作品,瀰漫著若似暮色低垂時分的藍紫色調,在夏卡爾精彩的作品中時常可見。遲暮微明的時刻,交織著音樂、魔幻與神秘的色彩。


    作於1929年,水粉正巧是夏卡爾在那個時期探索的主要媒材。經由傳奇的畫商安博思・弗勒爾所委託,藝術家才剛剛完成了為《拉封丹寓言》所做的一系列蝕刻版畫;雖然這批版畫晚至1952年才出版,但兩人的友誼其實早在詩人布萊茲‧桑德拉爾的引薦下就已萌芽。弗勒爾不僅成為夏卡爾的啟蒙導師,更是他靈感來源,為他開啟在版畫創作上探索嶄新概念的一道窗。這讓他得以在巴黎成名,以至後來在1922年布爾什維克革命結束後,返回維捷布斯克居住了五年的時光。他被任命為維捷布斯克地區的美術官員,與當時莫斯科的前衛藝術先驅卡什米爾・馬列維奇以及艾爾・列斯基等藝術家一同工作。《小提琴家 - 藍色》是一幅充滿詩意與音樂的畫,描繪了一個如同小夜曲般浪漫的景緻,與絕對主義(或稱至上主義)所追求的嚴謹全然不同;然而,畫中大膽地以近乎單色所塗滿的背景,成為了畫面主角,再具體化身為藍色的音樂家,卻也反映出了絕對主義的基本精神。在蘇維埃威權的眼中,馬列維奇於1929年被指控為「哲學夢想家」,同年創作的《小提琴家 - 藍色》其中充滿詩意色彩的成分,想必也會被視為反抗威權與主流的作品。

    此外,這幅作品的創作年份也適逢華爾街金融風暴,《小提琴家 - 藍色》仍舊捕捉了黃金二十年代的風采,其中記載著夏卡爾和其夫人貝拉那段風華歲月。巴黎在當時為他們敞開大門,而他們也儘情歡度舒暢的人生。在這件作品裡,夏卡爾同時也概念性地捕捉了在經濟瞬息萬變的年代裡,不同國度中截然不同的感傷情景。主角樂手的形象,緊扣著他童年回憶中俄國民間故事,然而,他所坐的箱子,卻象徵意指了藝術家的新歸屬:巴黎,這個孕育藝術風采的首都。一般藝術家會於創作中描繪音樂家坐在長板椅上,夏卡爾於此作中的樂手,卻坐在沿著塞納河岸隨處可見的二手「書攤」所架在的那種箱子上。是對於他所居住的新城市的微妙暗喻象徵,其鮮明地對比著小提琴家,也喚起了他童年於維捷布斯克的猶太人區之成長回憶-「shtetl」(猶太意第緒語中指稱中歐及東歐地區居住著大量猶太人口的小村莊);這個意象激發了他一生創作,在此,夏卡爾對他兒時成長的故鄉,一抒無盡懷念的想望。藝術家在早年的個人回憶錄《我的人生》裡,生動地回憶起他在維捷布斯克的時光:「就像一個鞋匠...叔叔(Neuch)正在拉小提琴。這個人花了一整天的時間,把乳牛拉進棚子,把牠們的腿給綁起來,然後再把牠們拉著到處跑,現在這個人卻在演奏,演奏著猶太教士的歌」(M・夏卡爾《我的人生》,倫敦,1965年,第25頁)。各種年齡的小提琴手,皆曾出現在他的作品中,阿姆斯特丹市立美術館所藏《音樂家》即為一例,這些人物代表著音樂、文化根源以及回憶對他的重要性。



    夏卡爾對於色彩的應用,極度展現了其藝術的精湛之處。畢卡索曾說過這個為人津津樂道的評語:「等到哪天馬蒂斯走了,那就只剩下夏卡爾一人能如此透徹了解色彩了。」(賈姬・沃許拉格所著《夏卡爾:自傳》,紐約,2008)。在此,夏卡爾用藍色讓整個畫布完全活了起來,藍色不僅是一種色彩,更是一種情緒。在音樂上,藍色更是與憂傷的情調密不可分。然而這樣的情緒,卻在《小提琴家 - 藍色》中透過加入其他歡愉的色彩,像是些許的白色、粉紅、嫩綠,或是數筆的金色,在共鳴之間取得了平衡。這些愉悅的色彩,好似樂曲局部的音符,在視覺上切換著旋律的調性,點綴了整體的藍色構圖,更呼應了小提琴這個音樂主題。這種將音樂、形體和色彩融合在一起的藝術試煉,與夏卡爾來自同樣國度、爾後也遷居法國的康丁斯基,對此也進行過深刻的探索。

    《小提琴家 - 藍色》曾於1932年在倫敦萊斯特畫廊展出,這是夏卡爾首度在英國參展,該展覽主要推出英國及法國的現代藝術家。曾出版《現代美術運動》的著名英國美術史學家及藝評家瑞吉諾德・H・伍倫斯基,還為該展覽出版的目錄撰寫前言。在那個人生階段,夏卡爾經歷了一連串的重重考驗,從1929年的經濟大蕭條,以至他摯愛的妻子貝拉日趨走下坡的健康問題。當時是他們的女兒艾妲代表出席了展覽開幕式,當晚是由英國駐巴黎大使喬治・克拉克爵士夫人所主辦,夏卡爾早先恰巧曾經為他教授過繪畫課(J・沃許拉格,《夏卡爾:愛與流亡》,倫敦,2008年,第362頁)。泰晤士报則是對夏卡爾在這展覽中的作品做出了以下評論:「充滿奇幻及詭譎的描繪⋯⋯經由雅緻的神秘感及感官魅力而獲得昇華。」(「藝術展覽:萊斯特畫廊」,泰晤士报,1935年五月一日,第14頁,網路再版)。


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Property of a French Collector

Le violoniste bleu

signed 'Marc Chagall' lower right
gouache on paper
66 x 51.3 cm. (25 7/8 x 20 1/4 in.)
Executed in 1929, the authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Marc Chagall.

HK$3,800,000 - 4,800,000 

sold for HK$3,940,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018