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

La femme à la tête d'âne (Cirque Vollard)

Details
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
La femme à la tête d'âne (Cirque Vollard)
signed 'Marc Chagall' (lower right)
gouache on paper laid down on canvas
26¼ x 20¼ in. (66.6 x 51.5 cm.)
Executed in 1927
Provenance
Private collection, Belgium, by circa 1980.
Private collection, Bali, by descent from the above in 1988.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999.
Literature
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, New York, 1963, no. 483, p. 754 (illustrated).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas

Lot Essay

The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

Marc Chagall's La femme à la tête d'âne was created in 1927 and forms part of his celebrated group of nineteen goauches, the so-called Cirque Vollard. These works took this title from their origin: it was during the time that Chagall was working on La Fontaine's Fables for Vollard that the legendary dealer asked him to extend his eye for the fantastical to the theme of the circus. Vollard and Chagall visited the Cirque d'Hiver night after night - Franz Meyer, author of one of the most authoritative monographs on the artist (and also his son-in-law) explained that the dealer had taken a box there for the season (see F. Meyer, Chagall, New York, 1963, p. 355). Their visits to the circus appear to have provided the inspiration for the playful group of colour-filled gouaches such as La femme à la tête d'âne, originally intended for another publication which never came to fruition.

In La femme à la tête d'âne, it is clear that the fantasy that had already saturated Chagall's vision was given a new momentum through this commission. The hybrids and chimeras that had hitherto occasionally peopled Chagall's work now became a force in their own right. In related works, animals and humans all intermingled and interweaved with topsy-turvy landscapes that gave a heady and intoxicating sense of the bewildering transgressive spectacle of the circus. Here, this is evident not only in the donkey-woman of the title, who recalls the appearance of the transformed Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but also in the be-hatted animal in the background. Such cross-germinated dream creatures would henceforth become an increasingly important element in Chagall's playful visual idiom. Meanwhile, the rich colourism of the background, with its green landscape tilting up one side, pierced by a crisp white moon, and a turquoise streak emerging on the other alongside more nocturnal hues, adds an intense energy to the composition.

In addition to cementing the centrality of these mysterious monsters in his work, La femme à la tête d'âne and its fellow gouaches in the Cirque Vollard marked the explosion of the theme of the circus into Chagall's oeuvre, albeit sometimes in an almost tangential fashion, as is the case here. While the circus had already been glimpsed here and there, it now became an important vein of inspiration for the artist and would remain so for the rest of his life, becoming one of his most celebrated subjects. It was a theme perfectly suited to the magical, lyrical world of Chagall. After all, as he himself later said, 'It is in the circus that eccentricity and simplicity blend most naturally' (Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, Westport, 1995, p. 324).

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