The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The subject of the clown in painting may often be considered as a form of a homage, a gift offered by one kind of artist in praise of the skills of another. The painter, so deeply immersed in his most difficult, serious and solitary craft, identifies with the clown as a kindred spirit, but one who can far more easily, plainly and publicly express the entire range of emotions, fully ranging from laughter to tears (figs. 1 and 2), all that stems from a sensitive soul, and somehow make light of them.
The painter might like to play the jester, and engage in occasional mockery of others, or even of his own situation and work, but few dare to bluntly make a complete fool of themselves, lest they place their career in peril. All these roles are, of course, part and parcel of a clown's job description. Granted absolute carte blanche in his field of endeavor, together with almost every kind of waiver allowing unbounded behavior, the clown leads the charmed life of an outsider who moves beyond the reach of conventional social propriety. He goes about his work however he pleases, so long as he entertains his audience--the child in each of us, at any age--in the process. This is the sort of complete release from responsible sanity, coupled with utter self-abandonment to the nonsensical and absurd, that a painter might envision and most envy in the life and work of a clown.
"There are many painters of the circus: Seurat, Lautrec, Rouault, Léger," as the poet Louis Aragon has reminded us. They have all painted clowns. "I should like some day to see their canvases alongside of Chagall's. Not by way of competition or classification of masterpieces, nor to give one a higher rating than another, or bestow a prize. But to compare the variety of the attraction the circus exercised over them. One would perceive with a certain surprise that perhaps only in Chagall do all the senses play a prominent role" (in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 195).
Aragon is right, and the present painting Le Rappel is an illustrative case in point. Many artists settle on a harlequin or saltimbanque, resplendently poignant in their time-honored commedia dell'arte costumes, as a suitably high-brow, authentically historical avatar through whom they might indulge their fantasies of the circus life--but at a nostalgic remove, in a time of things past. Chagall's clown--whose rhinal profile, we note, is clearly the artist's own--is a different creature altogether; he is surely a more vital, flesh and blood character, a fellow of the here and now, caught up the passions and appetites of modern life. We smell the garlic and sausage on his breath, the sweat that has soaked through his rose-patterned, parti-colored clown suit as he virtually leaps into the viewer's space--sticking his grinning face in yours--his arms outspread as he makes his curtain call in a ready, joyous embrace, as much of you, as of all of us and every bit of life itself. Stunned at this incredible sight, even a red pony turns its head and takes notice.
"The circus as Chagall has always understood it [is] the expression of illogicality of the 'psychic' in that very gamut of motifs where rational logic becomes tolerant," Franz Meyer has written. "Traveling acrobats were probably the first 'artists' Chagall came across as a child, the first to impose form on the wondrous in the sense of conscious action... The circus act, as immediate, unadulterated representation of life in its own peculiar fantasy--fleeting as a ripple in a stream, yet coherent as any true achievement--satisfies a fundamental Chagallian conception of art. It leads nowhere and yet is all. For just like color and form, the circus act in not a copy but a representation, a reflection of life in its totality... Chagall's circus is at once an unsophisticated show and an allegory of the universe. Every motif carries its echo with it and all is in a state of flux, at once nature and art, closed stage and open landscape, reality and unreality...fleeting yet eternal" (Marc Chagall, New York, 1964, pp. 554 and 556).
The circus was for Chagall "love distorted in a reflecting mirror," Sidney Alexander has suggested. "Was he not himself a clown? He cultivates the white powdered gamin face, the unexpected dance-like movements, he looks not infrequently like Charlie Chaplin or Harpo Marx... Distrusting logic and coherence, he coherently employs illogic in defense as a shield. He guards his world by pretending inconsequence; he is a calculating mystic, a mixture of Mithnaged and Chassid, of the rule of law and the virtues of lawlessness, of conservation and abdication, of head and heart" (Marc Chagall: A Biography, New York, 1978, pp. 291 and 292).
Writing some thirty years after Alexander, Jackie Wullschlager also drew attention to the Chaplinesque side in Chagall: "The only artist he identified with, he said in the 1920s, was Charlie Chaplin--whom he saw as a secular sort of the holy fool of the Hasidim. 'Chaplin seeks to do in film what I am trying to do in my paintings,' he told Jacques Guenne in 1927" (Chagall: A Biography, New York, 2008, p. 336).
"Chagall's images of circus people owe nothing to anyone; they are once burlesque and tender," Lionello Venturi observed. "Their perspective and sentiment, their fantastic forms, suggest that the painter is amusing himself in a freer mood than usual; and the result is eloquent of the unmistakable purity flowing from Chagall's heart...the mature realizations of earlier dreams" (Marc Chagall, New York, 1945, p. 39).
"Through the centuries, [the circus] has been the most poignant cry in a man's search for amusement and joy," Chagall wrote in 1967. "It often takes the form of high poetry. I seem to see a Don Quixote in search of an ideal, like an inspired clown who wept and dreamed of human love" (Le Cirque, trans. Patsy Southgate, in Chagall: Le Cirque, exh. cat., Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1981, n.p.).
Marc Chagall, 1960. Agence photographique Roger-Viollet, Paris. BARCODE: 28859628
(fig. 1) Marc Chagall, Les saltimbanques dans la nuit, 1957. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. BARCODE: 28858096
(fig. 2) Marc Chagall, Le clown à la mandoline, 1975. Sold, Christie's, London, 18 June 2007, lot 60. BARCODE: 7404_60