Marc Chagall - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, October 24, 2023 | Phillips

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  •  “For me, a circus is a magic show that appears and disappears like a world. These clowns, bareback riders and acrobats have made themselves at home in my visions. Why? Why am I so touched by their make-up and their grimaces? With them I can move towards new horizons.”
    —Marc Chagall

     Marc Chagall’s affinity for the circus and its performers emanates from his childhood in pre-revolutionary Vitebsk, Russia. Travelling acrobats, clowns, and equestrians would arrive to entertain audiences at the local village fair. However, the lack of appreciation from the public, who would often walk away unimpressed, was a sad scene that stayed with Chagall throughout his life, deepening a fear that this might be his fate as an artist. Nonetheless, Chagall would go on to illustrate the colorful and dynamic spectacle of the circus in one of his greatest lithographic series, Le Cirque.

    In 1927, Ambroise Vollard, one of the most prominent art dealers and publishers of early 20th century French art, proposed that Chagall produce a suite of gouaches on the theme of the circus. Vollard, an appreciator of the circus himself, offered Chagall the use of his personal box at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris. Sidney Alexander, Chagall’s personal biographer, described the artist as “childishly delighted” at the opportunity. However, following the tragic death of Vollard in 1939 Chagall abandoned the project until he was encouraged to revisit it at the suggestion of Tériade, a great friend to and supporter of the artist. Tériade was also one of the most significant art publishers of the 20th century, who commissioned and published work from artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in addition to Chagall. Upon the artist’s return to this beloved project, he used the early preparatory gouaches as a point of departure, but decided to change the medium to lithography, having mastered this printing technique over the past two decades.

    In 1962, Chagall began production on the series of lithographs depicting the vibrant and exhilarating atmosphere of the circus. He depicted dreamlike scenes featuring the sensational performances of trapeze artists, dancers, and clowns engaging in gravity defying acts while surrounded by an adoring crowd. The artist’s choice of the versatile printing technique of lithography allowed him to seamlessly integrate his signature artistic style of loose brushwork, deep colors, and rich layering of each color from separate plates to the world of his printmaking. The spontaneity of Chagall’s hand brilliantly conveyed the dazzling movements of the performers. The complete portfolio of 38 lithographs, 23 in colors, was finally published in 1967 alongside text by the artist and it is widely considered one of Chagall’s most impressive illustrated books.


    Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, 1900


    • Literature

      Fernand Mourlot 512 and 515
      see Patrick Cramer books 68


Le Cirque (The Circus): plates 23 and 26 (M. 512 and 515, see C. bks 68)

Two lithographs in colors, on Arches paper, the full sheets.
both S. 16 3/4 x 12 3/4 in. (42.5 x 32.4 cm)
Both from the unsigned editions of 250 (there were also 20 hors commerce in Roman numerals and a signed and numbered edition of 24 with margins), published by Tériade, Paris, both unframed.

Full Cataloguing

$6,000 - 8,000 

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212 940 1220

Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 24-26 October 2023