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    Sale 1902

    Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper

    7 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 143

    Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

    L'acrobate à cheval

    Price Realised  


    Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
    L'acrobate à cheval
    signed 'Marc Chagall' (lower left)
    gouache and ink on black paper
    24¾ x 18¾ in. (62.9 x 47.6 cm.)
    Painted circa 1927-1928

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

    L'acrobate à cheval, a dazzling and energetic work depicting the gripping performance of a nimble acrobat, was painted during a period of unparalleled happiness and contentment for Chagall and his family. Facing increasing intolerance under the new Russian regime, Chagall returned to Paris in 1923 where he was immediately enchanted by the liberty, light and color of his adoptive homeland. Now a respected and successful artist, he benefited from the financial security afforded him through sales of his works and exhibitions in France, Germany and New York and was able to explore France at his leisure. Chagall exclaimed:

    In Paris I frequented neither schools nor teachers. I found them in the city itself, at every step, everywhere. There were tradesmen in the market, the café waiters, the concierges, the peasants, the workers. Around them hovered this astonishing 'freedom-light,' which I have never seen elsewhere. And this light passed easily onto the canvases of the great French masters and was reborn in art. I couldn't help thinking: only this 'freedom-light,' more luminous than all the sources of artificial light, can give birth to such shining canvases, in which revolutions in technique are as natural as the language, the gestures, the work of the passers-by in the street (quoted in Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 74).

    Chagall had befriended the legendary dealer Ambroise Vollard, who in 1927 invited him to share his box seats at the Cirque d'Hiver that season. Inspired by this exhilarating spectacle, Chagall painted 19 gouaches, which formed the Cirque Vollard, and later in the year executed a second group of circus scenes, which included the present gouache. Franz Meyer comments on these works:

    Linked with the Circus cycle is a small group of works in which the violence of the painterly impulse is so intense that the colors are flung on the canvas, spraying the background in a fine drizzle or searing it like a hissing meteor. The areas handled in this fashion recall Pollock and we see across the decades an affinity between Chagall's direct rendering of psychic tension and the American artist's vital spiritism (op. cit., p. 355).

    The "freedom light" discovered by Chagall in Paris is evident in the brilliant, luminescent colors of the present gouache and further exemplified by the manner in which he splattered the paint across the sheet, much like the dazzling shimmer of light on a sunny day. Meyer elaborates on the artist's supernatural manifestation of light in the present work: "the life force is transformed into a firework of figural magic and sparkling light...the color flickers before the dark ground as if the objects were bathed in moonlight" (op. cit., p. 366). The dynamic vibrancy and ecstatic energy of this circus series is never again witnessed in Chagall's oeuvre, signifying that this period marked an apex--both personally and creatively--for the artist.

    Special Notice

    On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.


    Helena Rubenstein, New York; Estate sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 20 April 1966, lot 41.
    Frieda Kittay Goldsmith, Palm Beach (acquired at the above sale).
    By descent from the above to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property formerly from the Collection of Frieda Kittay Goldsmith, Palm Beach, Florida

    Sol Kittay and his family arrived in America in 1925, at the age of 15, from the impoverished East End of London. He began working immediately --at first stapling pompoms on slippers, then working his way to become a successful salesman, and finally buying an old textile mill in the Midwest manufacturing men's T-shirts and boxer shorts. Ultimately, success drove him to buy a similar but larger textile operation with a recognized name, B.V.D., which he converted from an almost-bankrupt company into a dynamic success.

    While in his fifties, he sold B.V.D. and he and his wife Frieda (a fluent speaker of French who loved that country's history, culture and language, and whom he had met in 1937) turned their attentions to other interests--philanthropy, art collecting and gastronomy. In addition to being supporters of a variety of charities, they funded one of the first experiments of housing for the elderly - an alternative to a nursing home, Kittay House, with which Frieda Kittay was involved until her death. It was built in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, and it continues today to service the city's residents while standing as a pioneer in the social movement now known as assisted living.

    Sol Kittay had an unerring eye for quality which was fostered in business and transferred to his taste as a collector. He loved strolling in the West End of London, visiting galleries and attending auctions. During the late 60s and early 70s, he and his wife gradually built a collection of "contemporary" art, particularly strong in Giacometti, Chagall, Miro and Dufy. Their collection was influenced, in part, by the years they had spent on Cap Ferrat (where they owned a house) and the infamous "light" that has served as an inspiration to so many artists in the south of France.

    Sol and Frieda Kittay loved fine dining and had a dream of starting a first-class restaurant. This dream came to fruition with La Seine, on East 58th Street in Manhattan. In order to share their interests with the public, the walls of La Seine were adorned with their art collection--always mentioned by the critics who gave the restaurant such positive reviews.

    After the restaurant closed, the art returned to their homes. From Sol's death in 1982, his widow, Frieda, cherished the collection until her death last April.

    Christie's is pleased to be offering property from the Kittay Collection in the November 6th and 7th, Impressionist & Modern Art Evening, Day and Works on Paper sales.


    F. Meyer, Chagall, New York, 1963, p. 754, no. 492 (illustrated, p. 660).


    New York, Museum of Modern Art, Chagall, 1946, no. 34.
    New York, Galerie Chalette, Chagall, 1958 (illustrated).