Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Nu à l'enfant

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Nu à l'enfant
signed and dated 'Marc Chagall 1949' (lower right)
oil on canvas
45½ x 37¾ in. (115.5 x 96 cm.)
Painted in 1949
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1954.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, New York, 1963, p. 759, no. 793 (illustrated)
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 4th Annual Exhibition, November 1950-January 1951 (illustrated; titled Grande nu jaune).

Lot Essay

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

"For me, you are-my life," Chagall wrote encouragingly to his young paramour, Virginia Haggard, three days after their son David was born. "I can't live anymore without you. Fate wanted me to meet you after dear Bella (whom you love too)" (quoted in B. Harshav, ed., Marc Chagall and His Times: A Documentary Narrative, Stanford, 2004, p. 588). Writing from Paris, Chagall had timed his first return to Europe after the war purposefully to be absent at the birth of his son, the undeniable proof of a relationship he was not yet prepared to admit. Virginia, the Paris-born cosmopolitan daughter of a British diplomat, had entered his life in 1945 as his housekeeper, rebellious in youth and unhappy in her marriage. Each of them had felt "starved," as Virginia later recalled, but they found new love together, unexpectedly for Chagall only nine months after the death of his beloved wife, Bella (quoted in op. cit., p. 565). The pleasant reality of daily domestic intimacy, however, could never upstage the power of the mythic eternal moment that Chagall had created around the memory of Bella, nor diminish the intensity of imagery for which she remained the principal source (see lot 82).

Nevertheless, "in his imagination," Benjamin Harshav has explained, "Chagall conflated the two images of Virginia and Bella, the sensual and the spiritual," a psychic union epitomized in his poem, "The Painting":

My departed love,
My new-found love,
Listen to me.
I move over your soul,
Over your belly-
I drink the calm of your [young] years.
(in op. cit., p. 567)

Both women grace Nu à l'enfant: the darkened, spectral face of Bella hovers over the elongated, feminine body of Virginia, whose long auburn hair and full womb suggest the prime of youth and fertility. "There can be no question," Sidney Alexander has written, "that black-haired Bella was subtly becoming metamorphosed into taller, longer-necked, russet-haired Virginia" (in Marc Chagall, A Biography, New York, 1978, p. 388). By the end of the decade, Bella made only occasional, ectoplasmic appearances in his paintings, almost always in bridal veil. Chagall's brides were, according to Virginia, "always Bella," but the Madonna and Child images (a Christian icon) were generally Virginia and David, his son (in op. cit., p. 386). In this Annunciation scene, Virginia embodies the eternal feminine in the full bloom of pregnancy, heralded by the trumpet and violin of heavenly angels. Only the riotous arrangement of flowers, bursting with color and with the exuberance of new-found love, breaks up the ethereality of the scene, cast against the luminous tonalities of the green-and-gold background.

Nuptial scenes in staggering numbers comprise much of Chagall's production in the final, and by all accounts blissfully romantic American interlude, which lasted from his return from France in 1945 to his final voyage with Virginia and David to Europe in the summer of 1948. Nu à l'enfant was one of a number of paintings begun in New York and finished in France the following year. As Alexander has observed, the ecstatic "abundance of flowers," once again prominently featured in his painting, and "the extraordinary levitation of every element" hint that Chagall has recovered the relaxed happiness of his earlier years, and first love, in France (op. cit., p. 406).

(fig. 1) Virginia and Marc Chagall at High Falls, New York, 1948. BARCODE 25010183

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