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Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
This lot is exempt from Sales Tax. Property from The Museum of Modern Art, sold to benefit the Acquisitions Fund
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Le temps n'a point de rives

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Le temps n'a point de rives
signed and dated 'Marc Chagall 1930-1939' (lower left)
oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 32 in. (100 x 81.2 cm.)
Painted 1930-1939
Private collection.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (anonymous gift from the above, 1943).
R. Schwob, Chagall et l'âme juive, Paris, 1931, pl. I (first state illustrated as frontispiece).
The Bulletin of The Museum of Modern Art, XI, No. 3, January 1944, p. 11.
J.J. Sweeney, Marc Chagall, New York, 1946, p. 61 (illustrated, p. 65).
I. Kloomok, Marc Chagall, his Life and Work, New York, 1951, pp. 67 and 103.
L. Venturi, Marc Chagall, Geneva, 1956, pp. 88-91 (illustrated, p. 79).
W. Erben, Chagall, New York, 1957, fig. 41 (illustrated).
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, New York, 1963, pp. 380-381 (first state illustrated, p. 389).
A. Breton, Surrealism and Painting, London, 1965, p. 62.
A.H. Barr, Jr., Painting and Sculpture in The Museum of Modern Art: 1929-1967, New York, 1977, pp. 153, 531.
L. Amiel, ed., Homage to Chagall, New York, 1982, p. 10 (illustrated).
A. Legg and M.B. Smalley, eds., Painting and Sculpture in The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1988, p. 25.
A. Kagan, Marc Chagall, New York, 1989, pp. 62-65 (illustrated, p. 64).
J. Baal-Teshuva, Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995 (illustrated, p. 146).
W. Haftmann, Marc Chagall, New York, 1998, pp. 26-27 (illustrated, p. 30).
Paris, Galerie Mai, Marc Chagall, January-February 1940.
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, March Chagall, 1941.
Boston, Institute of Modern Art, Soutine, Chagall, 1945.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Chagall, April-June 1946, no. 9.
Boston, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, 1950.
Fayetteville, University of Arkansas, 1951.
Denver, Art Museum, Art for Freedom, 1951.
New York, UNESCO, World on View, 1952.
New York, Union Theological Seminary, Contemporary Religious Art, 1952.
Denver, Art Museum, Cubistes, Fauves et Impressionnistes, 1956.
Pasadena, Art Museum, Marc Chagall, Seventieth Anniversary Exhibition, May-July 1957, p. 28, no. 28a.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Marc Chagall, Seventieth Birthday, December 1957-February 1958.
New York, Galerie Chalette, Chagall: A Selection of Paintings from American Museums and Private Collections, March-April 1958, p. 28 (illustrated).
Paris, Palais du Louvre, Marc Chagall, June-October 1959, no. 120 (illustrated p. 321).
Hamburg, Kunstverein; Munich, Haus der Kunst; and Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Marc Chagall, February-September 1959, p. 39, no. 101 (illustrated).
New York, The American Federation of Arts, Marc Chagall, October-December 1963, no. 40.
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Marc Chagall, March-May 1970, no. 41.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Marc Chagall, September-December 1982, no. 47.
New York, The Jewish Museum, The Jewish Experience in the Art of the Twentieth Century, October 1975-January 1976.
Ludwigshafen-am-Rhein, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Marc Chagall: Mein Leben--Mein Traum, Berlin und Paris 1922-1940, April-June 1990, no. 165 (illustrated, pl. 158).
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Marc Chagall, March-June 1991, no. 42 (illustrated in color).
London, The Barbican Art Gallery, Chagall to Kitaj: Jewish Experience in 20th Century Art, October 1990-January 1991, p. 187, no. 126 (illustrated in color, p. 74).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Making Choices: Paris Salon, March-August 2000.
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Chagall connu et inconnu, March-November 2003, p. 225, no. 116 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

*This lot may be exempt from sales tax as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice in the back of the catalogue.

Le temps n'a point de rives is both a lyrical and philosophical work, imbued with Chagall's own whimsical vision of the world. The winged fish that hurtles through the air above an expansive river landscape is itself a magical creature, but with the addition of the clock, relates very closely to Chagall's personal internal world and his inner vision. Many years earlier, having returned in 1914 to his parents' home in Vitebsk after forging his career first in Russia and then in Paris, Chagall painted the clock in their house, and it is this same clock that would reappear intermittently in later paintings. Once it was rediscovered, and indeed reincarnated, as part of his childhood world, it was also transfigured into the quintessential clock in the artist's mind. Despite its distinctive appearance, this clock is a generic timepiece, a reference to the external and unchanging pace of time itself.

In several works, Chagall linked the clock to the motif of a flying fish, creating a strange yet evocative union of a reminiscence from his childhood with one of the most famous and potent of his recurrent fantasic symbols. Franz Meyer wrote, "It is only as the dead spoils of the angler that the fish belongs to the immediate environment of man. The watery depths in which it passes its life are, like the depths of the human soul, an alien region, and the fish symbolizes powers remote from man's consciousness. The fact of its sailing through the sky constitutes a violent incursion from the depths into the world of air and light" (in op. cit., p. 380). In this way, the fish becomes a strange apparition, a vision filled with a sense of power and potential, while the clock appears to link it explicitly to time, to mortality, and to lost and forgotten worlds. However, as shown by the strength of the fish carrying the clock, this emblem of the soul has escaped and transcended the bounds of time. The clock has no hands and time no longer has any relevance, and the fish soars triumphantly through the sky over the human landscape. The 19th century French poet Alphonse de Lamartine wrote:

'L'Homme n'a point de port, le temps n'a point de rives;
Il coule et nous passons!'

The picture and the poem share a sense of the movement of life and its flowing progress. However, while Lamartine seems resigned and fatalistic in his choice of words, Chagall rejoices in the sensual and vital flow of time. Indeed true to its theme, the painting and its imagery evolved over an extraordinarily extended period of time. Chagall first employed the image of the clock surmounted by a fish in the etching The Clock (fig. 1), which he made in 1928-1930 and intended to use as the frontispiece for Renée Schwob's monograph Chagall et l'ame juive (op. cit.). The etching remained in its proof stage, however, for Chagall began work on the oil painting in 1930, and he used it in its first state (fig. 2) to illustrate the title page of Schwob's text. In this early stage the fish and clock were seen flying over a river landscape; however, the lovers on the right bank and the violin had not yet appeared. Chagall introduced these later on, and their inclusion not only added an overt musicality to the work, and lightened its previously somber tone, but it also linked the theme of time to a clear expression of human and sexual love. The dominating presence of the fish is perhaps a reference to the power of love, a theme that was always central to Chagall's work. One is reminded of the role of his wife Bella in his life and art, for even after her death in 1944 she remained the artist's most constant and significant muse, a love without limits and unbounded by time.

Chagall brought the painting to the state in which we know it today in 1939, taking an entire decade to complete it, or even longer. In comparing the first and final states of the painting, it becomes evident that Chagall reworked and refined almost every contour and area of the surface. Susan Compton wrote that "Metamorphis is the essence of Chagall's poetic idea" (in Marc Chagall: Mein Leben-Mein Traum, exh. cat., p. 213). Chagall has equated the act of transformation in his art, the unfolding process by which images, ideas and the expression of love are made manifest, with the essence of time itself.

(Fig. 1) The Clock, etching, 1928-1930.

(fig. 2) Le temps n'a point de rives, first state, circa 1930-1931.
©c 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York ADAGP, Paris


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