Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF SIMONE AND JEAN TIROCHE
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

La nuit enchantée

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
La nuit enchantée
signed 'Marc Chagall' (lower left)
oil on canvas
21 5/8 x 26 1/8 in. (55 x 66.2 cm.)
Painted in 1964
Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne (no. 3285), by whom acquired directly from the artist in the late 1960s.
Private collection, United States, by whom acquired from the above in 1969; sale, Sotheby's, London, 19 June 2006, lot 53.
Acquired at the above sale, and thence by descent to the present owners.
Salzburg, Galerie Salis & Vertes, Marc Chagall, Ölgemälde-Gouachen-Zeichnungen, December 2006 - January 2007 (illustrated pl. 7).
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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Lot Essay

The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

La nuit enchantée is a 1964 painting by Marc Chagall that combines many of his favourite motifs in a nocturnal vision filled with magic and poetry. A violinist, animals, a nude and flowers are all shown against a backdrop which has elements that recall Vitebsk, the home of Chagall's youth. This is a dream-like image of the night, suffused with whimsy and romance. At the same time, La nuit enchantée displays Chagall's virtuosity in the realm of colour: while the canvas is dominated by the dark blues of the night scene, he has used this backdrop as a foil for bold flashes of colour, be it in the red cockerel seen tumbling upside down, the pink of the nude's flesh, the bloom of the flowers or the searing white of the crescent moon.

This understanding of colour was to gain Chagall a new generation of aficionados during the post-war period, when he turned his hand to monumental projects that included stained glass. His increased colourism is often credited to his work with luminous, translucent glass. In La nuit enchantée, this is reflected in the way that Chagall has used various colours to push other ones further into electric relief.

In his pictures, Chagall often superimposed his nostalgia for the lost Vitebsk of his youth upon the world he now inhabited. By 1964, he was an internationally acclaimed artist, creating murals and stained glass compositions for the Opéra, the United Nations and the Hadassah hospital alike. At the same time, his iconography remained firmly routed in his memories of his youth in Vitebsk, in present-day Belarus. The animals, the characters and indeed the fabric of the town would haunt him throughout his life, providing a lyrical solace to him, a vanished world staying alive through his pictures. Describing one of the rooms he had in Vitebsk, when already an art student, he would write, in terms that recall La nuit enchantée: 'My room was lit by the deep blue that fell through the only window. The light came from a distance: from the hill, where the church stood. I always enjoy painting that church and that little hill again in my pictures' (M. Chagall, My Life, London, 1965, p. 79). Here, that town appears in the backdrop, even emerging through the silhouette of the goat, pierced by the mystical cipher of the moon, which has dropped, like a fleeting reflection, below the horizon, part of the enchantment of this night scene.

In La nuit enchantée, the link between the fantastical view immortalised here and the artist's own past is clear in the form of the red cockerel, the fiddler, the goat and indeed the nude, a gesture that points towards romance while also hinting at the memories Chagall recorded in his autobiographical prose poem, My Life, of painting his beloved Bella naked for the first time. This had taken place in Vitebsk back in the first decade of the Twentieth Century; Bella had died during her and the artist's exile in the United States, where they sought refuge during the Second World War, yet she posthumously continued to weave a thread through his pictures, embodying love, Chagall's key theme, with each appearance. While the women in his pictures, for instance the enshrouded nude in La nuit enchantée, may represent other women, or indeed women in general, much of his knowledge and experience of the theme remained firmly rooted in his early encounters and love of Bella.

By the time La nuit enchantée was painted, Chagall had been away from the Vitebsk of his youth for decades. Chagall's home in Vence was filled with his own early works, themselves often representing fresher memories of his then-recent past in Vitebsk; these served as constant refreshers and reminders for the artist during the post-war period, allowing him to plunge once more into that lost universe. One of the near-constant themes, one that added another layer of reality for the artist, was the presence of music, here embodied in the form of the violinist shown to the left. While he may be dressed as a historical form of clown or entertainer, adding a certain comical vim to the scene, he also embodies that entire evocative sense, so absent in painting: sound - here, the sound of the shtetl of Chagall's youth. Just as The Fiddler on the Roof was itself a Broadway musical derived from tales of life in Hasidic communities, so too Chagall revived that constant presence of the violin in town life. Even Chagall's own uncle would play, as he himself remembered:

'He played the violin, like a cobbler.
Grandfather listened and dreamed.
Only Rembrandt could have known what the old grandfather, butcher, tradesman and cantor thought while his son played the violin beside the window, beside the dirty window panes covered with raindrops and finger marks.
Behind the window, the night.
Only the priest is asleep and behind him, behind the house, a waste peopled with ghosts.
But uncle is playing the violin.
The man who spent the whole days leading the cows into the sheds, tying their legs, and dragging them around, is playing now, playing the rabbi's song.
What does it matter how he plays? I smile, trying my hand at his violin, pouncing at his pockets, his nose' (ibid., p. 25).

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