Marc Chagall - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, April 19, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "A painter was needed who could handle color so skillfully that the images conjured up in the reader’s mind would be augmented and even surpassed by the visual images."
    —Norbert Nobis from his Introduction to Marc Chagall: Arabian Nights 

    Chagall brilliantly captured the vibrant scenes and colors of the East that flow through the four chosen tales of Arabian Nights. Art Historian Norbert Nobis describes Chagall’s first attempt at color lithography in 1948 as “a particularly splendid jewel in the crown of his graphic work.” His illustrations ultimately enhancing the descriptive nature of the text in unparalleled ways that truly establish his mastery of color lithography. 


    Chagall wanted his renderings of these evocative stories to match their beautiful literary descriptions and thus, he decided upon color lithography as the medium that would best translate these narratives to the printer’s press. The versatile printing technique of lithography would allow Chagall to seamlessly integrate his signature painting style of loose brushwork, deep colors, and rich layering of each color from separate plates to the world of his printmaking. However, it would take nearly 20 years for this series to come to fruition as it was not until he found asylum in the United States at the invitation of the Museum of Modern Art during World War II that he found the proper collaboration to illustrate the texts. The result was a portfolio of thirteen elaborate images entitled Four Tales from the Arabian Nights, published in 1948 by Jacques Schiffrin for Pantheon Books. 

    "Strong ties to the beloved, the fateful element of love, the separation of lovers and their reunion, as well as the meaning of death, are the most important features common to the four stories." —Norbert Nobis from his Introduction to Marc Chagall: Arabian Nights 

    In 1704, Antoine Galland, a French orientalist, published the first European translation of the tales of Arabian Nights and is accredited with their popularization across Europe and the further influence of Arabian stories on European fairytales. Marc Chagall first considered illustrating the tales of Arabian Nights in the 1920s at the suggestion of Ambroise Vollard, one of the most prominent art dealers and publishers of early twentieth century French art. Of the hundreds of stories, Chagall carefully chose only four to illustrate: The Ebony Horse, Julnar the Sea-Born and her Son King Badr Basim of Persia, Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman, and Kamar Al-Zaman and the Jeweller’s Wife


    The many tales of Arabian Nights explore themes of love and betrayal, destiny and adventure, fantasy and horror, all augmented by incredibly descriptive narratives that conjure up magnificent and colorful imagery. The tales revolve around the central story between King Shahryar, a scorned man intent on revenge, and Shahrazad, an imprisoned woman who shares a tale with the King each evening. After a thousand and one tales, King Shahryar falls in love with Shahrazad and makes her his queen.  


    In all, Chagall created 12 different images illustrating the four tales. He printed them in editions of 90, 11 and 10. The edition of 10 was made special by Chagall to include a sheet of each different color printed on its own or in combination - probably to show how a multi-color lithograph is made and the amount of work involved to get to the final image. This lot contains an impression of the final signed and numbered image along with 10 of the rare progressive proofs. Lots 4 and 5 are examples of the final signed and numbered, full color, states, and lots 131-134 are groups of progressive proofs for other images in the series.

    • Provenance

      Private American Collection

    • Literature

      Fernand Mourlot 45
      see Patrick Cramer books 18


Now the King loved science and geometry and one festival day as he sat on his kingly throne there came in to him three wise men...: plate 10, from Four Tales from the Arabian Nights: 11 plates (M. 45, see C. bks 18)

Eleven lithographs in colors, including the signed and numbered final state and ten color progressive proofs, on Utopian laid paper, with full margins, the proofs and final state all contained in the original two wove paper folios with lithograph illustrations, folded (as issued).
all I. 14 7/8 x 11 1/4 in. (37.8 x 28.6 cm)
all S. 17 x 13 1/8 in. (43.2 x 33.3 cm)

The final state signed, annotated 'Pl. 10' and numbered 16/90 in pencil, the 10 color progressive proofs from the deluxe edition of 10 in Roman numerals (there was also an edition of 11 lettered A-K), published by Pantheon Books, New York, printed by Albert Carman, City Island, New York, all unframed.

Full Cataloguing

$15,000 - 25,000 

Sold for $23,940

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220

Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 19 - 21 April 2022