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

Les Chrysanthèmes

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Les Chrysanthèmes
signed 'Chagall' (lower right)
oil on canvas
36 1/8 x 28¾ in. (91.7 x 73 cm.)
Painted in 1926
Sam Salz, Cologne and New York.
Justin K. Thannhauser, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Maxime L. Hermanos, New York (by 1956); sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 26 April 1961, lot 73.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York.
Barbara N. Thurston, New York (by 1967); Estate sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 21 May 1975, lot 118.
Perls Galleries, New York (by 1984).
Acquired by family of the present owner, circa 1997.
J. Guenne, "Portraits d'artistes: Marc Chagall" in L'Art vivant, vol. 3, no. 72, 15 December 1927, pp. 999-1010.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, New York, 1964, p. 752, no. 401 (illustrated).
Kunsthaus Zürich, Marc Chagall, May-July 1967, p. 28, no. 85 (illustrated).
New York, Perls Galleries, Marc Chagall, March-April 1956, no. 5.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, March Chagall: Rétrospective de l'oeuvre peint, July-October 1984, p. 182, no. 35 (illustrated in color, p. 75).
London, Royal Academy of Arts and The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Chagall, November 1984-April 1985, p. 208, no. 72 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 106).
New York, The Jewish Museum, 1987.

Lot Essay

The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Painted in 1926, Les Chrysanthèmes marries Chagall's most seminal artistic motifs, fantasy and the still-life. He explores these themes by juxtaposing a whimsical winged figure gliding effortlessly across the deep blue sky, above the oversized chrysanthemum blooms. Chagall's paintings had long depicted flowers latent with immense artistic significance. Through the thick, textural application of paint Chagall explores these seductive blossoms. To the artist, abundant, full flowers are synonymous with love, which he felt was the basis of true art. Klaus Perls, one of the early owners of Les Chrysanthèmes, related that "the work was painted in Paris for sale, a fact which explains its flamboyant sureness of touch and the decisive representation of the blooms. This is the mature work of an artist, who by 1927 was a leader of the so-called School of Paris" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1985, p. 208).

The Greek-born writer Tériade commented on Chagall's paintings in 1926: "As for Chagall he is a painter who was born a romantic... To see the world through bouquets! Huge, monstrous bouquets in ringing profusion, haunting brilliance. Were we to see him only through these abundances gathered at random from gardens... and naturally balanced, we could wish for no more precious joy!" (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1995, p. 136). Les Chrysanthèmes is filled with the magical sense of romance that permeates the greatest of Chagall's works. The flowers, symbols of love and beauty, have been rendered with vivid red and fiery orange--these colors are made all the more dramatic through their contrast with the blue of the background. This color is itself evocative of evening, of shade. The fact that so much of Les Chrysanthèmes is bathed in this color adds a dreamlike quality to the work. Dream, after all, was crucial to so many of his paintings.

It was the dreamlike quality in Chagall's works that had initially led to the Surrealists approaching the artist and asking him to join their movement. It was this same oneiric sense of whimsy that led Ambroise Vollard to commission two groups of works from Chagall during the period that Les Chrysanthèmes was painted. The first of these were gouaches that he prepared as illustrations for La Fontaine's Fables in 1926, while the following year he executed a large group of works focusing on the theme of the circus. The circus in particular had long interested Chagall, and yet would provide the inspiration for some of his most exuberant works (fig. 1). Les Chrysanthèmes shares in some of this exuberance with its firework-like explosion of flowers and leaves.

The mid- to late 1920s were one of the greatest periods of success for Chagall, as he gained broad recognition for his work. It was during this time that he had his first American exhibition, as well as many other exhibitions in France and elsewhere in Europe. He now had an increasing number of patrons and was truly settling into life in France after his ultimately disappointing years in post-Revolutionary Russia. It is telling that during the late 1920s, he spent vast amounts of time travelling through France, visiting various friends, both old and new. Later in his life, Chagall confessed to the art critic Franz Meyer--who became the artist's son-in-law--that the 1920s were "the happiest time of [his] life" (quoted in J. Wullschlager, Chagall, Love and Exile, London, 2008, p. 333).

The angel floating above the chrysanthemums in the deep bowl of the night sky can also be seen as being a depiction of a guardian angel who has guided Chagall through the troubled valley of the shadow of death during the viccisitudes of the Russian revolution to the eventual green pastures and security of life in Paris.

(fig. 1) Marc Chagall, Les trois acrobates, 1926. Sold, Christie's, New York, 8 May 2013, lot 40.

More from Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale

View All
View All