Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF J. IRWIN AND XENIA S. MILLER
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Nature morte

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Nature morte
indistinctly signed 'M Chagall' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
24½ x 19½ in. (62 x 49.5 cm.)
Painted in 1910-1911
Dr. Girou, Marseilles, by 1963.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners in January 1967.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1963, p. 746, no. 51 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

Painted in 1910-11, Nature morte dates from the beginning of Marc Chagall's historic first visit to Paris. This picture is filled with a sense of the magical realism that had already become so important to the artist. At the same time, the dominant blue of the palette recalls the light of the Parisian dawns that Chagall himself would later recall, as well as the Prussian blue of the still life paintings of his beloved Cézanne, while it also thrusts the flashes of luminous colour of the fruit and foliage into relief with Fauve-like intensity. In Nature morte, then, the viewer sees the synthesis of Chagall's artistic developments from before his departure from his native Russia with the new impetus of the Fauve, Cubist and Old Master pictures of the art world of Paris in which he now immersed himself. At the same time, the gentle lyricism of this still life reveals the poetic aspect of his art that would lead to his friendships with Guillaume Apollinaire, who would celebrate him in his own works and organise introductions and exhibitions for him, and Blaise Cendrars, who would even come to title some of Chagall's works.

Chagall had felt frustrated in Russia by the limited lessons to be learnt from the various schools there. Although initially on arriving, he was daunted by the French capital and considered fleeing home, within a short time he had found a wealth of influences, lending him the kudos and encouragement that had been lacking in Vitebsk and St. Petersburg, not least in the Salon des Indépendants of 1910:

'I made my way to the very heart of the French painting of 1910.'
'I attached myself to it.'
'No academy could have given me all I discovered by getting my teeth into the exhibitions, the shop windows and the museums of Paris' (M. Chagall, My Life, trans. D. Williams, London, 1965, p. 102).

Chagall now viewed both the history and the contemporary situation of French art, coming to know intimately the pictures in the Louvre as well as in the galleries of some of the legendary dealers of the period such as Bernheim-Jeune. He saw the works of past masters such as Cézanne and Van Gogh, and took lessons from each, as can be seen both in the interest in form and composition of this still life, and in the frenzied brushstrokes, the swirling curves and spots of colour with which he has rendered the flowers, which would become such a vital hallmark of his paintings. He saw the works of Chardin and other older still life painters and sought to condense some of the atmosphere and poetry of their pictures into his own, as is clear in the discreet magic of Nature morte, which teeters on the brink of memory, imagination and reality.

Another avant garde movement of which Chagall was clearly aware at the time was Cubism, although his relationship with its aesthetic was complex and sometimes ambivalent. As can be seen in the forms of the jug and fruit of Nature morte, and indeed to some extent in the composition itself, Chagall allowed himself to be informed by Cubism, to adapt some of its mannerisms as though by osmosis and for his own purposes. And yet the overarching concepts that they sought, the intellectual rigour and intentions of their pictures, interested him not at all. Indeed, in Nature morte, the flowers appear deliberately to offset the stricter rigours of the rest of the painting, bursting like fireworks within a picture that makes use of an angularity and geometry clearly related to Cubism. This would become even more pronounced in works produced just after this time, which were in part influenced by the example of his friend Robert Delaunay. However, Chagall took only elements of their visual language in order to create a more intense image, a sense of hallucinatory faceting and fragmentation, rather than to convey any concept of the sensation of seeing. It is both ironic and revealing, taking this into consideration, to read his own recollections of the time:

'I looked at them out of the corner of my eye and thought:
''Let them choke themselves with their square pears on their triangular tables!'
'No doubt my early tendencies were a little strange to the French. And I regarded them so lovingly! It was painful.'
'But perhaps my art, I thought, is a wild art, a blazing mercury, a blue soul leaping up on my canvases' (ibid., p. 109).

It was precisely this strange and unique, intensely personal and idiosyncratic spirit that set Chagall apart from the Cubists. He did not seek to represent the kind of reality that interested them. He was less interested in the visual world and its problems than in a world of the mind, of the heart and of the imagination. As he himself would later say, 'If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing' (M. Chagall, quoted in Chagall: A Retrospective, ed. J. Baal-Teshuva, Westport, 1995, p. 16).

The unique aesthetic that Chagall honed to greater perfection in Paris, with its faintly Surreal air, fills Nature morte, perfectly demonstrating the watershed that his experiences in the city had, in no time, brought about. It is telling that his former teacher, Léon Bakst, who had discouraged Chagall from making the long journey to Paris because he believed he would starve, on seeing the pictures that he had painted there exclaimed: 'Now your colours sing' (L. Bakst, quoted in Chagall, op.cit., 1965, p. 103).

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