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.


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

Contact Specialist
Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 8 March 2019