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    Sale 1901

    Impressionist And Modern Art Day Sale

    7 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 427

    Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

    L'Abattoir

    Price Realised  

    Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
    L'Abattoir
    signed and dated 'Marc Chagall 1911' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    18 1/8 x 25 5/8 in. (46 x 65.1 cm.)
    Painted in 1911


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    In 1910, Marc Chagall took a train from his native Russia to Paris. After a four-day journey, he arrived in the city that would come to represent for him both freedom and light. He secured a small studio in the artists' quarter of Montparnasse, and though he would take classes at the art schools La Palette and La Grande Chaumière, visits to the Louvre served as his true inspiration. Thanks to the ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev and his coterie, all things Russian had become extremely fashionable in Paris. And while Chagall associated somewhat with these compatriots, including Diaghilev's scenic designer Léon Bakst, he ultimately found this circle too extravagant for his less cultivated tastes.

    In the winter of 1911, Chagall left Montparnasse for the suburb of La Ruche, which biographer Sidney Alexander describes as "an ambiguous zone of misery--neither city nor country, near the slaughterhouses of the Vaugirard district" (in Marc Chagall: A Biography, New York, 1978, p. 118). His studio, larger than his previous one in Paris, was situated in a settlement populated by fellow artists--Chaïm Soutine, Alexander Archipenko, Amedeo Modigliani, Ossip Zadkine and Fernand Léger all held studios there. It was this swarm of densely-packed artistic activity that lent the settlement its name: "La Ruche", or "the bee hive."

    La Ruche's proximity to the butchers' district provided lively, if sometimes unsavory, surroundings for these artists. Alexander explains that "the nights at La Ruche were brightened with rowdy meetings, songs, and music, or else tumultuous riots and squabbles fomented by the 'tuers'--the 'killers'--of the neighboring slaughterhouses who penetrated into the area, wildly drunk, sowing terror" (ibid., p. 123). The present painting is clearly motivated by Chagall's unruly neighbors, and in it he captures their frenzied, Dionysian spirit. The nearby presence of these butchers also reminded the artist of his home in Vitebsk, for which he always remained nostalgic. "The proximity to the slaughterhouses was, as it were, the blown-up memory of his grandfather's barn," Alexander writes. "The stench of blood was always in the air" (ibid., p. 124).

    Such slaughterhouse depictions became the signature of another of the settlement's Jewish artists, Chaïm Soutine (fig. 1). But rather than populating his abattoir scenes, as Chagall does here, Soutine zooms in, as it were, on the flesh itself. And "unlike Soutine's savage killings [Chagall's] cattle were always painted with compassion...For Marc, every slaughtering was a Crucifixion: a necessary sacrifice to give nourishment to the body or nourishment to the soul" (ibid., p. 126). This aesthetic difference reflected a more personal one between the two artists. While Chagall embodied the artist as docile dreamer, Soutine fulfilled the stereotype of the rough, filthy artist, dressed in rags and prone to explosive intrusions.

    Chagall's closest companion at La Ruche was the Swiss poet Blaise Cendrars, who had also arrived in Paris in 1910, pausing his ceaseless travels long enough to live among the artists of the beehive. In his 19 Poèmes élastiques, Cendrars paints a verbal portrait of his friend Chagall at work:

    He sleeps
    He is awake
    Suddenly he paints
    He grabs a church and paints with a church
    Her grabs a cow and paints with a cow
    With a sardine
    With heads, hands, knives
    He paints with a bull's tendon
    He paints with all the grubby passions of a little Jewish village
    With all the exacerbated sexuality of a Russian province


    (fig. 1) Chaïm Soutine, Boeuf et tête de veau, 1923.

    Provenance

    Desire Kellermann, Paris.
    George Gershwin, New York and Beverly Hills (acquired from the above, October 1931).
    Ira and Leonore Gershwin, Beverly Hills (by descent from the above, 1937).
    By descent from the above to the present owner, 1991.


    Saleroom Notice

    Please note this lot may be tax exempt from the sale tax as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice at the back of the catalogue.

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


    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Philanthropic Fund

    Ira Gershwin, the first songwriter to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize (with George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind for Of Thee I Sing), was born on December 6, 1896. He received many accolades for his achievements, including three Academy Award nominations.

    Ira's first success with his brother George was Lady, Be Good! in 1924, followed by such major works as Oh, Kay!, Strike Up The Band, Girl Crazy, Of Thee I Sing and Porgy and Bess (with DuBose and Dorothy Heyward). In 1936, the brothers went to Hollywood for what became their final collaborations: Shall We Dance, A Damsel In Distress and The Goldwyn Follies. In the years following George's death in 1937, Ira was instrumental in the creation of two additional Gershwin film scores: The Shocking Miss Pilgrim and Kiss Me, Stupid. With the success of the "new" Gershwin musicals My One and Only and Crazy for You, Ira's songs have been re-discovered by a younger generation.

    Ira also collaborated with other songwriters, including Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Kurt Weill, Aaron Copland, Vincent Youmans, Harry Warren, Arthur Schwartz, Burton Lane and Jerome Kern. Ira's book, the acclaimed Lyrics On Several Occasions, was published in 1959.

    As one of the great American songwriting teams of the 20th Century, Ira and George were members of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theatre Hall of Fame. They received the Congressional Gold Medal from the United States Congress and the Grammy National Trustees Award. In 1976, Ira was honored with the National Music Award; ten years after the University of Maryland had awarded him an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. In 1983, the Uris Theatre in New York was renamed The Gershwin.

    After George's death, Ira was the keeper of the Gershwin flame, attending to the details of his brother's estate and supervising, for donation to the Library of Congress, the organization and annotation of manuscripts pertaining to their careers. (His nephew, Michael Strunsky, performs many of these functions today.) In 2007, the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song was created, to recognize American composers and interpreters of popular song.

    On August 17, 1983, Ira died peacefully in the Beverly Hills, California home that he had long shared with his wife of 56 years, Leonore Strunsky Gershwin.

    Christie's is honored to be offer the following lot from their esteemed collection.


    Exhibited

    Arts Club of Chicago, Exhibition of the George Gershwin Collection of Modern Paintings, November 1933.
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ira Gershwin, 1952.
    Dallas Museum of Art (on extended loan, 1993-1999).