Marc Chagall - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, France
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Gallery Maeght, Derrière Le Miroir no. 147, June 1964, no. 20 (illustrated)

  • Literature

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

  • Catalogue Essay

    Bringing together the iconic motifs and colours that populated Marc Chagall’s oeuvre throughout his career, Le violoncelliste, 1964, is a perfect embodiment of the artist’s distinctive style. Belonging to a cycle of works centering on the theme of music, the present gouache showcases Chagall’s close proximity to the subject. ‘I’ll become a violinist. I’ll enter a conservatory’, had mused the artist as a child (Benjamin Harshav, Marc Chagall and His Times: A Documentary Narrative, Stanford, 2004, p. 112). Though he later gave up on the idea, Chagall ceaselessly produced momentous works circling the musical realm, most notably the Opéra Garnier’s luxurious ceiling in Paris in 1964, and two monumental murals, The Triumph of Music and The Sources of Music, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera of New York in 1966, all produced alongside the present work in the mid-sixties.

    Resting his head against his instrument whilst looking into the distance, the artist's Le violoncelliste touches on various themes that were bolstered by Chagall’s boundless imagination. Moving beyond the realm of music, the present work is evocative of childhood memories in the artist’s native Vitebsk, invoking visions of fiddlers, birds and cold winterly tones, whilst simultaneously presenting itself as a universally understandable allegory for nostalgia. Buttressed by each symbol’s overarching thematic association, Le violoncelliste brings forth powerful evocations of freedom, passion and the past, dexterously typifying Chagall’s ability to coalesce ‘mysterious delicacy and charm of feeling’ (‘Art Exhibitions: The Leicester Galleries’, The Times, 1 May 1935, p. 14, reproduced online). Emerging from an indiscernible background, the painted violinist’s restful position within an imaginary world further highlights the composition’s elusively poetic aspect.

    A myriad of free-floating Chagallian signs populate the present work: a wide, round sun, a smaller crescent-shaped moon, a cascade of flowers, a mother holding her child, and an elegant dove entwined within the violinist’s hair. Finally, the leading musician takes centre stage, embodying Chagall’s poetic vision; embracing his instrument as he would a lover, the fiddler and his violoncelle fuse into one, alluding to a bodily transformation sparked by the force of an all-consuming passion. Invoking this quasi-incantatory dimension, Chagall further likens the violoncelle to a powerful life force, imparting it with a pigment similar to that attributed to the sun, metaphorically expressing music’s transformative capacity to elicit potent illumination.

  • Artist Biography

    Marc Chagall

    Franco-Russian • 1887 - 1985

    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.

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Le violoncelliste

signed 'MArC ChAgAll' lower left
gouache, ink, ink wash and pastel on paper
90 x 62 cm (35 3/8 x 24 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1964.

£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £375,000

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Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4065
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 8 March 2019