The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Chagall’s Scène biblique describes one of the most joyous events in the Old Testament and in the entire history of the Jewish faith. Here the artist has depicted David, the anointed and now crowned king of all Israel, entering Jerusalem while playing his harp. He precedes the return of the Ark of the Covenant, which holds the Tablets of the Law and is the very presence of God among his chosen people. The ark had long been absent from the city where it belonged. The Philistines had captured it in battle, and kept possession of it for seven months; then, after having suffered various plagues and afflictions, they yielded it back to the Israelites. Eleazar, a son of the house of Abinadad in the town of Kirjath-jearim, was sanctified to watch over it. Twenty years later, David, upon his accession to the throne, made preparations to retrieve the ark, but because one of its handlers was struck dead, he decided it should not yet enter Jerusalem.
Adding a personal element to this scene, Chagall painted an angel diving headlong out of the sun, the disk of which bears a heavenly reflection of the Tower of David and the walled citadel of old Jerusalem, bearing the Lord’s blessing to the celebrants below.
“Ever since early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible,” Chagall stated in his address delivered at the inauguration on 7 July 1973–his 86th birthday–of the Musée national message biblique Marc Chagall in Nice. “It has always seemed to me and still seems today the greatest source of poetry of all time. Ever since then, I have searched for its reflection in life and in Art. The Bible is like an echo of nature and this is the secret I have tried to convey” (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 295).
Chagall typically featured, from his earliest work onward, subjects drawn from the Jewish culture and folklore in which he was raised in his native Russian town of Vitebsk. He did not directly treat biblical themes, however, until 1930, when his dealer Ambroise Vollard, who was also a devotee and publisher of illustrated books, commissioned him to create a series of etchings for a Bible edition. Even while continuing to work on two other books for Vollard, La Fontaine’s Fables and Gogol’s Dead Souls, Chagall began to paint gouaches of biblical stories to prepare for this new project (Meyer, nos. 585-601). “I did not see the Bible, I dreamed it,” he explained in the early 1960s to Franz Meyer, then his son-in-law (quoted in F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1964, p. 384). The artist decided that he must travel to Palestine to experience first-hand the land of the Bible and its peoples.
During February 1931, Chagall, his wife Bella and daughter Ida toured Alexandria, Cairo and the Pyramids, and thereafter spent the greater part of their journey in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Upon their return to France in April, the artist told a friend, “The air of the land of Israel makes men wise–we have old traditions” (quoted in ibid., p. 385).
Chagall travelled to Israel three more times, in 1951, 1957 and 1969, lastly for the unveiling of a mosaic and three tapestries on Old Testament themes for the newly completed Knesset building in Jerusalem. Chagall worked on a series of monumental Bible paintings during the 1960s, seventeen of which he donated to the French state in 1966. These canvases, together with other museum loans, comprise the collection housed in the Musée national message biblique Marc Chagall in Nice, the first government-sponsored museum in France ever devoted to the work of a then living artist. “The Word is painted,” André Verdet declared. “Painted it attains an epic grandeur, often verging on the sublime, but at the same time it remains familial, grazed by fantasy and winged grace” (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., op. cit., 1996, p. 298).
Fig. A Marc Chagall, La lutte de Jacob avec l'ange, 1960-1966. Musée national message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice. BARCODE: art145632_dhr
Fig B Marc Chagall, Le roi David, 1951. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. BARCODE: nyrphxta