Marc Chagall - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    James Vigeveno, Ojai
    Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1958

  • Literature

    Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, New York, 1964, no. 615, p. 675 (medium erroneously catalogued, illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “In our life there is a single color, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.” - Marc Chagall

    Marc Chagall’s Les amoureux en volpresents the viewer with a surreal dreamscape that centers on the artist’s powerful connection to his wife Bella. Exuding the sense of poetic harmony so characteristic for Chagall’s artistic output in the 1920s and early 1930s, the work depicts a scene in which a bride and groom float in tender embrace atop a monumental white rooster – the city landscape in the background suffused in blue light. Continuing the central themes of love, nostalgia, memory and fantasy that had garnered Chagall acclaim in the preceding two decades, the iconic bride and groom motif is a reference to Chagall’s own marriage to the great love of his life, Bella, in 1915. While he often depicted them transported back in time to their wedding in the village of Vitebsk in Belarus, in Les amoureux en vol Chagall reimagines his lovers in Paris, where the couple had been happily living since 1923 after years of hardship. While this subject matter gave rise to a discrete group of works in 1933, Chagall only returned to this iconic motif in the late 1930s.

    Born in Russia in 1887, Chagall emerged as one of the leading avant-garde artists in Paris in the 1910s alongside Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Robert and Sonia Delaunay, among others. Synthesizing aspects from Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism while remaining resolutely representational, the Jewish artist pioneered a highly imaginative, hallucinatory pictorial idiom that sent shockwaves through the formalist establishment and prefigured the Surrealist movement in the 1920s. It was, in fact, Guillaume Apollinaire’s appreciative description of Chagall’s pictorial worlds as “surnaturel” (supernatural) during a studio visit in 1912 – a term Apollinaire would later revise into “surréel” more generally – that gave the movement of Surrealism its name. Though Chagall refused to join the Surrealist movement spearheaded by André Breton in later years, he is widely celebrated as one of the fathers of Surrealism. As Breton himself acknowledged Chagall’s crucial position in 1941, it was with Chagall’s “explosions of lyricism” that “under his sole impulse, metaphor made its triumphal entry into modern painting” (André Breton, Genèse et perspective artistique du surréalisme, 1941, in Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall, New York, 2008, p. 142).

    Les amoureux en vol was originally in the collection of French critic and art historian Robert Lebel, a central figure within the Parisian avant-garde who later lived in exile in New York during the Second World War. Acquired by Betty Sheinbaum in 1958, this work provided a compelling art historical context to her growing collection of Abstract Expressionist art, which included works by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Richard Diebenkorn. Though Chagall's figurative work at first glance seems at odds with the radical abstraction of the New York School, his utter commitment to art as expression of an inner vision, rather than art following formal rules of pictorial logic, set a precedent for these abstract painters. Chagall’s work had been shown in New York in the landmark exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936–1937 and was notably the subject of a major retrospective there in 1946. Fleeing Nazi Europe in 1941 thanks to a promise of sponsorship from Alfred H. Barr Jr. and living in New York for six years, Chagall together with fellow émigré artists Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian and André Breton set the stage for the new vanguard of American painters in developing their own artistic approaches of tapping into their unconscious and expressing profound emotion. Chagall’s legacy for the development of American post-war art is perhaps best epitomized in Robert Motherwell’s A Sculptor’s Picture, With Blue from the Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum Collection – which, just like Les amoureux en vol – is an expression of Motherwell’s felt experience in its abstract homage to his marriage to Helen Frankenthaler. A timeless and universal picture, Les amoureux en vol perfectly encapsulates how in Chagall’s works, as art critic Jackie Wullshlager put forward, “we read the triumph of modernism, the breakthrough in art to an expression of inner life that…is one of the last century’s signal legacies” (Jackie Wullshlager, Chagall, New York, 2008, p. 4).

The Modern Form: Property from the Collection of Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum


Les fiances sur le coq ou Les amoureux en val

signed "Marc Chagall" lower left
gouache, pencil, ink on paper mounted on thin card
23 1/4 x 19 in. (59.2 x 48.4 cm.)
Executed in 1936.

The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $759,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017