"When I arrived in France, I was struck by the sparkle of color, the play of light, and I found what I had been searching for blindly, that refinement of material and wild color. My customary sources have remained the same: I have not become a Parisian, but now the light shines from the outside."
Created during a transformative period in Marc Chagall’s career, Le Père is a rare, dynamic portrait which signifies the artist’s pivotal transition from art student in Saint Petersburg to one of the defining figures of European Modernism. By 1911, Chagall left his native Russia for the first time and arrived in Paris; his senses were immediately overwhelmed, and he was exhilarated by the intensity of color and light the city offered. Le Père encapsulates the immense effects the French capital had on Chagall and his revolutionary painting.
While heavily influenced by his visits to the great French museums, galleries, and salons, it was the work of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse which left a lasting impression on the young artist. Although the French Fauvists had already disbanded before his arrival in Paris, many of Chagall’s paintings from this developmental period are heavily influenced by the bold, vivid, and kaleidoscopic use of color favored by the wild beasts. Chagall’s mastery of color would not go unnoticed and would eventually lead Pablo Picasso to boldly state: “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.”i
At only twenty-three years old, Chagall felt as though he had been driven to Paris by destiny. Everything about the city excited and inspired him. However, deciding to remain true to his feelings, to his homeland of Vitebsk and to his heritage, the artist later stated “The soil that nourished the roots of my art was Vitebsk. . . .My paintings are my memories.”iiLe Père is an intimate portrait of the artist’s father Zahar, a quiet and shy man who spent his entire life working in the same job; Chagall later recalled, “He lifted heavy barrels, and my heart used to twist like a Turkish pretzel as I watched him carrying those loads and stirring the little herrings with his frozen hands.”iii
"His father’s real personality seemed overshadowed, and it was only on holy days, when he managed to escape the burden of his daily toil for a few hours, that he radiated his native kindliness and quiet affection."
—Franz MeyerDuring the winter of 1911-1912, Chagall moved into La Ruche, an artists' commune on the outskirts of Montparnasse. Its promise of creative freedom attracted its many famous residents including Chaim Soutine, Jacques Lipchitz, Ossip Zadkine, Alexander Archipenko, Blaise Cendrars, Fernand Léger and Amedeo Modigliani. At La Ruche, “Chagall seems to have found a startling new confidence” and the works he created between 1911-1914 “are often regarded as the most original and outstanding of his entire career.”iv In spite of his burgeoning success in Paris and Berlin, in 1914 Chagall left Europe intending to briefly return to Vitebsk; little did he know that the world was about to change.
In the wake of the Russian Revolution and World War I, Chagall succeeded in returning to his beloved Paris in 1923 as a renowned artist. Upon his arrival, Chagall rushed to La Ruche only to discover that the more than one hundred and fifty works which had been left behind were now gone. Coupled with the works which had been sold unbeknownst to him in Berlin during the war, Chagall was faced with this shocking loss—almost his entire pre-war body of work had vanished without a trace; according to the artist’s estate, Le Père was supposedly amongst the missing works. The early 1920s marked a unique period and “Chagall was in an unusual and unenviable position: that of a mature artist, famous if not yet rich, his reputation resting on an extraordinary body of work that for the most part had vanished or been dispersed. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that much of his time and energy during the 1920s was occupied in literally recreating that œuvre.”v Unlike many of these early works which were destroyed or lost, Le Père miraculously survived the Great War.
"This is a savage picture, full of primeval force. Chagall uninhibitedly paints the objects in colors suited to the impression he wishes to convey…My Father is thus a Fauve picture, comparable to those Vlaminck painted in 1905/06 and akin to them in the vehement use of Van Gogh’s intense colors."
Chagall & Portraiture
Throughout his prolific career, Chagall revitalized the inherited traditions of portrait painting. He painted dreamy and fantastical portraits of lovers, religious figures, Vitebsk’s villagers, and his beloved family throughout his seven-decade career. Chagall’s legacy is vital to the history of Western art and its continued expansion of the genre. Portraits of the artist’s father are rare within Chagall’s oeuvre. Far from the generalized symbols of lovers that dominated much of his later paintings, this early work is a remarkably personal and heartfelt depiction. “Everything about my father seemed enigma,” recalled Chagall. “I was the only one to whom he was close, this man of simple heart.”vi
The tradition of incorporating botanical motifs in portraiture has also endured for centuries. Flowers are often used not only as aesthetic motifs, but also for their secret language; an artist may use a single flower to represent a hidden meaning. In Christian art, depictions of the Annunciation almost always feature a white lily to symbolize the chastity of the Virgin Mary whereas in the 17th century Dutch still life paintings, flowers were often reminders of the fleeting nature of material wealth. The 19th century saw a renewed interest in florals when the French Realists and Impressionists embraced the motif. Paul Gauguin was riveted by the exotic motifs of the Tahitian landscape whereas Vincent van Gogh immortalized the sunflower during the 19th century. In his portrait of his friend, Joseph Roulin, van Gogh set him against a floral background, echoing the swirls of his beard.
From Gauguin and van Gogh to Maurice de Vlaminck, Sonia Delaunay and Henri Matisse botanical looms have been incorporated into their portraiture and the tradition has continued through the contemporary work of Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley, who create lively compositions where flora comes alive across the canvas, enveloping the sitter while challenging ideas of race and identity. In Le Père, Chagall frames his vibrant depiction of his father with dynamic floral imagery behind the figure triumphantly referring to the artist's homeland. Even as Chagall embraces the vibrant urban fabric of Paris, he admits a longing for his childhood home.
The Cender Family
The early owner of this painting, David Cender, was a prominent luthier in Łódź, Poland who created instruments of the highest class for the eminent musicians of the era as well as being a musician and music teacher in his own right. In 1939, David married Ruta Zylbersztajn and soon after their daughter Bluma was born. The Cender family lived on Zeromskiego Street, in a lively neighborhood situated close to the nearby school, cinema, bath house, hospital, and park. Prior to 1939, 34% of Łódź's 665,000 inhabitants were Jewish, and the city was a thriving center of Jewish culture.
In September 1939, the German occupation of Poland marked a reign of terror against Jewish and Polish citizens. By February 1940, German troops created a Jewish ghetto at the northern edge of Łódź. In the spring, David Cender and his family were forced to leave their home and move into the ghetto leaving behind numerous valuable possessions, including paintings by Marc Chagall and Jankel Adler, Cender-made violins, a Seiler piano, tools to make musical instruments, and furniture. David later recalled that he was able to witness his family home being sealed from the ghetto.
More than 164,000 Jewish people were forced to live within this area of four-square kilometers. Later David, Ruta, and Bluma were deported to Auschwitz. While David was able to survive the war, his wife, daughter, and other relatives were killed at Auschwitz. In the aftermath of the war, David returned to Łódź alone, and with deteriorating health he continued to make violins.
The BRüG Claim
In 1958, David successfully obtained a visa and emigrated to France. The following year in March 1959, David provided a list of despoiled items for the BRüG claim in Germany seeking compensation for his despoiled property. Included in this list was the Chagall painting Le Père, 1911, which he had acquired through the prominent Polish art dealer Abe Gutnajer in 1928. To strengthen David’s claim, he obtained affidavits from two eyewitnesses confirming that they had seen the painting numerous times in the Cender home before the war.
In 1965, the Berlin Wiedergutmachungskammer wrote to Franz Meyer, author of Chagall’s first catalogue raisonné and the artist’s son-in-law, to enquire about the Cender painting. Meyer replied it was highly probable that David Cender and his witnesses’ testimonies were true. In May 1962, David provided a detailed description of his painting by Chagall for his affidavit: “The image was painted with strong contrasting colors. The face was white. The dark eyes stood out from the white face which was edged by red. The thick hair that hung in curls left and right from under his hat. The heavy beard and drooping moustache were black and grey. The background was very colorful and thickly applied. I can still remember the hat was a little crooked as the visor was pointing slightly to the left.”
The BRüG Commission wrote to Marc Chagall in May 1966 asking him for any information regarding the painting and made it known that the painting had been confiscated from David Cender in 1940; both David and his eye witnesses’ detailed descriptions were included. The following month, Meyer wrote to Dr. Hanns V. Krannhals who was researching Cender’s BRüG claim, stating that he believed the Cender painting to be the painting referred to as Der Vater in his 1961 catalogue raisonné. In his letter, Meyer also confirmed that the painting was now in Chagall’s possession. One month later, David Cender died in Metz on July 9, 1966, at the age of sixty-seven.
Thirteen years after David’s initial claim, the Berlin regional court concluded: “The ownership and the seizure of the Chagall painting have been proven, but the confirmation required under § 5 of the BRüG Act, that the painting was transferred to Berlin or an unknown place in the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, after the seizure, could not be made. The whereabouts of the painting are not known. There is no empirical evidence that works of art of this kind, from the incorporated eastern territories, were transferred to the area relevant under § 5 BRüG.”
Le Père: A Discovery
The precise location of Le Père remained unknown for more than a decade until it re-emerged publicly in a 1953 exhibition in Turin at the Museo Civico, lent then by a private collection. It was not until 1978, that the painting was credited in a catalog published on the occasion of an exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris as belonging to Marc Chagall. This work remained in the artist’s personal collection until 1985 when he died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. In 1988, the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou in Paris received by dation from the Chagall estate Le Père along with 45 paintings and 406 drawings and gouaches. On November 9, 1998, Le Père was deposited into the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme in Paris, where it has been on view for twenty-four years.
In the ensuing years, the Cender family decided to continue their quest to find Le Père. In 2020, provenance researchers were able to locate the painting at the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme in Paris for the family. Once the work was identified, a restitution claim was submitted to the Musée national d’art moderne and the French Ministry of Culture— both concluded that Le Père should be returned to David Cender’s heirs.
"It’s the first time since the postwar period that the government is showing a legal commitment towards the restitution of pieces from public collections."
A Landmark Restitution
Since 2019, the French government has been making a concerted effort to return Nazi-looted artwork, included in state collections, to their rightful owners. Between 1933-1945, more than 100,000 works of art were seized in France; while many were returned, thousands were entered into national museums or sold. The Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation (CIVS) identified 15 artworks in the national collection, including the present work. Research confirmed that the artist, unaware of its provenance, had bought the work back by 1953 and that it later entered the national collection in 1988. On January 25, 2022, the French National Assembly unanimously passed a bill approving the return of the 15 works of art; the bill was then passed by its Senate on February 15th. The Minister of Culture, Roselyne Bachelot, praised the decision saying that not restituting the works was “the denial of the humanity [of these Jewish families], their memory, their memories”.vii
A parliamentary bill was needed to override the principle of inalienability, which govern French museums and prohibit the transfer of ownership of objects or artifacts in museum collections. The historic passing of this bill marks the first time in more than seventy years that a government initiated the restitution of works in public collections looted during World War II or acquired through anti-Semitic persecutions.
On April 1, 2022, Le Père was returned to the heirs of David Cender by the Parlement français in Paris.
Coming to auction for the first time, Le Père is a treasured and rare example from the artist’s early œuvre. Its inclusion in this landmark restitution signifies a historic moment in contemporary cultural history.
i Pablo Picasso quoted in Ted Nash, MoMA Inside/Out: Portrait in Seven Shades: Chagall, New York, 2010, online. ii Marc Chagall quoted in Jacob Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall 1887-1985, Cologne, 1998, p. 19. iii Marc Chagall, My Life, London, 2018, p. 4. iv Monica Bohm-Duchen, Chagall, London, 1998, p. 65. v Monica Bohm-Duchen, Chagall, London, 1998, p. 176. vi Marc Chagall, My Life, London, 2018, p. 4. vii Roselyne Bachelot quoted in ARTnews, “France Approves Return of Nazi-looted Artworks, Including Paintings by Gustav Klimt and Marc Chagall,” January 26, 2022, online.
The artist (1911-1914) Abe Gutnajer, Warsaw (acquired by 1928) David Cender, Łódź (acquired from the above in 1928) (Confiscated from the home of David Cender in 1940) Collection of Marc Chagall, Vence (acquired by 1953) Succession Marc Chagall, Saint-Paul-de-Vence (March 28, 1985–June 5, 1988) Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (by dation from the artist’s heirs in 1988; historic inv. no. AM 1988-55; inv. no D.98.09.004.MNAM) (Deposited into the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, Paris on November 9, 1998) Restituted to the heirs of David Cender by the Parlement français in Paris on April 1, 2022
Turin, Museo Civico, Palazzo Madama, L’opera di Marc Chagall. Dipinti - guazzi - acquarelli - disegni - sculture - ceramiche - incisioni, April–June 1953, no. 16, p. 34 (illustrated, n.p.; titled as L’uomo barbuto) Hamburg, Kunstverein and Munich, Haust der Kunst (no. 30, p. 35, illustrated, n.p.; titled and dated as Bärtiger Mann, 1911); Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs (no. 38, p. 156, illustrated, p. 157; titled and dated as Le Pére ou l‘Homme barbu, 1910-1911), Marc Chagall, February 6–October 1959 Kunsthaus Zürich, Chagall, May 6–July 30, 1967, no. 19, p. 21 (titled and dated as Der Vater, 1910-1911) Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museums, Marc Chagall. Werke aus sechs Jahrzehnten, September 2–October 31, 1967, no. 15, p. 25 (illustrated, pl. 11; titled and dated as Der Vater, 1910-1911) Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, La Ruche et Montparnasse (1902-1930), December 22, 1978–April 1, 1979, no. 19 (illustrated, n.p.; titled as Le Pére ou l‘Homme barbu) Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Marc Chagall. Œuvres reçues en dation, March 30–June 5, 1988, no. 7 (dated as 1910-1911) New Delhi, National Gallery of Modern Art, Exhibition for the Festival of France in India. Birth and Life of Modernity, February 6–March 5, 1989, p. 70 (illustrated) Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Marc Chagall. 112 obras de la dación, June 23–August 13, 1989, no. 5, p. 31 (titled as El Padre) Sapporo, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art; Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum; Kobe, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Les Chagall de Chagall, September 30, 1989–February 12, 1990, no. 9, pp. 37, 190 (illustrated, p. 37) Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Chagall. "La Dation" – arven efter Marc Chagall, March 24–June 5, 1990, no. 6, p. 89 (illustrated, p. 20; titled as Faderen (Den skæggede mand)) Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Marc Chagall. Die russischen Jahre 1906-1922, June 16–September 8, 1991, no. 17, p. 388 (illustrated, n.p.; titled as Vater) Mexico City, Centro Cultural Arte Contemporáneo, Chagall en nuestro siglo, October 1991–January 1992, no. 6, pp. 17, 58, 475 (illustrated, p. 59; titled and dated as El padre, 1910) Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Marc Chagall. Les années russes, 1907-1922, April 13–September 17, 1995, no. 26, p. 264 (illustrated, p. 56; dated as 1910-1911) Kunstmuseum Bern (no. 28, p. 52, illustrated, p. 53); New York, Jewish Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Marc Chagall 1907-1917, December 16, 1995–January 5, 1997 Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum; Nagaoka, Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art; Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of Art, Marc Chagall, April 20–December 15, 2002, no. 10, p. 135 (illustrated, p. 48) Jüdische Museum Frankfurt; Berlin, Stiftung Brandenburger Tor, Chagall und Deutschland, February 1–August 1, 2004, no. 17, tafel. 19, p. 185 (illustrated, n.p.; titled as Der Vater) Jüdisches Museum Wien, Chagall, January 10–March 20, 2006 Tokyo University Art Museum; Fukuoka Art Museum, Chagall et l’avant-garde russe. Collections du Centre Pompidou, July 3, 2010–January 10, 2011; then travelled as Musée de Grenoble; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Chagall et l’avant-garde russe, March 5, 2011–January 15, 2012, no. 5, pp. 33, 211 (illustrated, p. 34) Louvre Abu Dhabi, Rendezvous in Paris: Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani & Co. (1900-1939), September 18–December 7, 2019, no. 24, p. 178 (illustrated, p. 85; titled as The Father) Paris, Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine…Paris pour école, 1905-1940, April 2–August 23, 2020, p. 261 (illustrated, p. 59)
Lionello Venturi, Chagall. Étude biographique et critique, Geneva, 1956, pp. 29, 119 (illustrated, p. 28) Lucien Goldmann, "Sur la peinture de Chagall, réflexions d’un sociologue," Annales. Economies, sociétés, civilisations. 15ᵉ année, no. 4, 1960, p. 675 (titled and dated as L’homme barbu, 1910-1911) Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall Life and Work, New York, 1964, pp. 100, 740 (illustrated, p. 103; titled and dated as Father, 1910-1911) Jean-Paul Crespelle, Chagall. L’amour, le rêve et la vie, Paris, 1969, p. 33 (illustrated) Horst Keller, Marc Chagall. Leben und Werk, Cologne, 1974, no. 7, pp. 32, 34, 145 (illustrated, p. 33; titled as Bärtiger Mann) Jeanine Warnod, La Ruche & Montparnasse, Paris, 1978, p. 152 (illustrated; dated as 1910-1911) Werner Schmalenbach and Charles Sorlier, Marc Chagall de Draeger, Paris, 1979, p. 33 (illustrated, p. 32) Alexandre Kamenski, Chagall. Période russe et soviétique. 1907-1922, Paris, 1988, p. 82 (illustrated; titled and dated as Le Pére ou l'Homme barbu, 1910-1911) Alexandre Kamensky, Chagall. The Russian Years 1907-1922, New York, 1989, p. 82 (illustrated; titled and dated as Father or The Bearded Man, 1910-1911) Jacob Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 36 (illustrated; titled as Father) Daniel Marchesseau, Chagall Ivre d’images, Paris, 1995, p. 168 (illustrated, p. 15; dated as 1910-1911) Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, Paris, 1995, no. A 20, pp. 55-56, 340 (illustrated, n.p.; dated as 1910-1911) Pierre Schneider, Chagall à travers le siècle, Paris, 1995, pp. 19, 27 (illustrated, p. 18; titled and dated as Le Père (ou Vieil Homme barbu), 1910) Marc Chagall. Bonjour, la patrie!, exh. cat., State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 2005, p. 82 (illustrated, p. 80; titled and dated as Father, 1910-1911) Benjamin Harshav, Marc Chagall and the Lost Jewish World. The Nature of Chagall’s Art and Iconography, New York, 2006, no. 5, pp. 64, 254 (illustrated, p. 23; titled and dated as Father, 1910) Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall. Love and Exile, London, 2008, pp. 21-22 (titled as Portrait of My Father) Fage Éditions, ed., Marc Chagall, Lyon, 2016, p. 12 (illustrated, p. 13; titled as L’Homme barbu ou Le Père, 1911)
Born Moishe Shagal in present-day Belarus, Marc Chagall (as he later became known) was one of the foremost Jewish artists of the 20th Century. He is perhaps best known for his inventive use of color and dream-like imagery, which anticipated Surrealism. His deeply religious upbringing influenced his work, as did the precarious political situation in Europe in the early 20th century. He first left the Russian Empire for France and Germany, but after returning to marry his wife, World War I prevented him from returning to France for over a decade. After the collapse of the French government during World War II, Chagall lived in New York until 1948. At that point, he returned permanently to France, which he considered his adopted homeland.
Chagall considered his style unique and actively resisted categorization. In Paris, he befriended Cubists like Robert Delaunay and Fernand Léger, but he also integrated elements of Fauvism and Symbolism into his practice. Aside from painting, Chagall also experimented with printmaking and stained glass--his windows can still be found in New York, France and Israel today. The artist passed away in 1985, and his work continues to be held in the permanent collections of many internationally prestigious museums.
signed and dated "Marc Chagall 1911" on the reverse by the artist in the 1950s oil on canvas 31 5/8 x 17 1/2 in. (80.3 x 44.5 cm) Painted in 1911, the work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Comité Marc Chagall.