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

La Fenêtre

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
La Fenêtre
signed and dated 'Marc Chagall 1959' (lower left); signed again 'Marc Chagall' (on the stretcher)
oil and sawdust on canvas
59 x 47 1/8 in. (150 x 119.8 cm.)
Painted in 1959
Estate of the artist.
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1990.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, New York, 1964, p. 745, no. 570 (illustrated; with incorrect cataloguing).
Paris, Palais du Louvre, Musée des arts décoratifs, Marc Chagall, June-October 1959, p. 448, no. 185 (illustrated, p. 449).
Tokyo, Musée national d'art occidental and Kyoto, Musée Municipal, Musée national d'art moderne, Marc Chagall, October-December 1963.
Kunsthaus Zürich, Saal Marc Chagall, November 1973-1987 (on extended loan).

Brought to you by

Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Like one driven on by Fate I arrived in Paris. The words rose to my mouth from my very heart. They almost stifled me. I stammered. The words fought to get out, full of eagerness to shine with this light of Paris, to bejewel themselves with it. At that time the sun of art shone in Paris alone and even today it seems to me that there is no greater revolution of the eye than that I came across on arriving in Paris in 1910 (Chagall quoted in F. Meyer, op. cit., pp. 95-98).

So Chagall recalled, late in his life, his first stay in the French capital--a veritable pilgrimage to the epicenter of the avant-garde, undertaken when the Vitebsk native was a fledgling artist of just twenty-three. Nearly half a century later, Paris remained a powerful touchstone for Chagall, by then an internationally renowned modern master. He and his first wife Bella, the great love of his life, had made their home in Paris for much of the 1920s and 1930s, a period of unrivalled joy and contentment for the artist. The city haunted his thoughts following Bella's tragic death in 1944, during the couple's wartime exile in the United States. In 1948, Chagall returned to France for good, dividing his time between Vence and Paris--"the Paris of which I dreamed in America," he recalled, "and which I rediscovered enriched by new life, as if I had to be born again, dry my tears and start crying again. Absence, war, suffering were needed for all that to awaken in me and become the frame for my thoughts and my life. But that is only possible for one who can keep his roots. To keep the earth on one's roots and find another earth, that is a real miracle" (quoted in ibid., p. 329).

When Chagall arrived in Paris in August 1948, he was received with an adulation greater than he had ever known before. On the heels of his major retrospective the previous year at the Musée national d'art moderne (and one the year before that at The Museum of Modern Art in New York), an endless stream of collectors, critics, publishers, dealers, and journalists sought him out for his latest pictures and thoughts on art. This recognition was reinforced at the Venice Biennale of 1948, where Chagall was given his own room in the French pavilion and awarded the prize for graphic art.

One of Chagall's most ambitious undertakings during this period was the "Paris Series"--a group of more than thirty canvases from 1952-1954 that depict embracing lovers, animal avatars, and fantastical creatures floating above well-known Parisian landmarks, including Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Bastille, the Opéra, the Panthéon, the Place de la Concorde, Saint-Germain-des Prés, and the bridges and quays along the Seine (fig. 1). Whereas Paris--so dear to his heart--had featured only intermittently in Chagall's art before this time, it now became an essential and enduring motif, supplanting his hometown of Vitebsk (which had been almost totally destroyed in the war) as the principal external reference point for his highly personal inner world. The "Paris series" is Chagall's paean to the French capital--"my real homeland," he declared (quoted in A. Kagan, Chagall, New York, 1989, p. 52). Susan Compton has written, "The city increasingly took the place of Vitebsk as a symbolic home for the artist, who has so often anchored his imaginative fantasies in an urban setting, ideally suited to the experience of modern man" (Chagall, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, p. 225).

Chagall exhibited twenty-nine canvases from the "Paris Series" at the Galerie Maeght in 1954, two years after he had met and married Valentine (Vava) Brodsky. "This was Chagall's first major show in France since the landmark retrospective in 1947 that had won him such prestige and a wide young audience in Paris," Jackie Wullschlager has noted. "It was also his first exhibition since his marriage to Vava, and it demonstrated a new ambition, scale, and consistency of vision that had been absent from his work in the decade after Bella's death. The entire cycle is a lyrical homage to the city that had been his and Bella's second home" (Chagall: A Biography, New York, 2008, pp. 482-483).

Chagall painted La Fenêtre in 1959, five years after this acclaimed exhibition at Galerie Maeght. Unlike the "Paris Series," which the artist had largely worked up in Vence from drawings that he made while strolling the boulevards of the capital, this monumental canvas was created in Paris itself. It depicts the view through the window of the apartment that Chagall had acquired in 1957 at 13, quai d'Anjou on the historic Ile Saint-Louis, looking across the Seine toward the Voie Georges Pompidou and the Quai des Célestins on the right bank (fig. 1). Chagall had used the device of the open window in one of his very first views of Paris, the iconic Paris par la fenêtre of 1913 (fig. 2), and he returned to the motif repeatedly during the 1920s and 1930s on his travels with Bella throughout the French countryside. "The window is the boundary between indoors and out, the opening in the wall through which the eye escapes into the distance, but which one can also shut in order to turn one's gaze inwards," Franz Meyer has written. "Chagall's preference for the window picture fits the particular situation of the artist who never gives 'the outside' a loose rein but relates 'inside' and 'outside' to each other as in a parable" (op. cit., p. 337).

Indeed, in the present painting, the window acts as a fluid boundary not only between interior and exterior, but--more powerfully--between the symbolic realms of present and past, real and imaginary. The cityscape is contained by the framing device of the inward-opening French windows, recalling the conventional notion in art theory since the Renaissance of painting as a view through a window. The buildings that make up Chagall's urban vista, moreover, are dotted with windows of their own, creating a play of rectangular openings that underscores this art historical trope, as well as emphasizing the distance between near and far. Yet the city of Paris is suffused in a deep, purplish pink glow, suggesting at once the colors of nightfall and the roseate haze of fading memories. This is not just the Paris of the present moment, but the Paris of Chagall's early career and his years with Bella, the Paris of his mind's eye. "Paris, my heart's reflection," Chagall exalted after the war. "I would like to blend with it, not to be alone with myself" (quoted in J. Wullschlager, op. cit., p. 483).

In contrast, the interior in La Fenêtre is illuminated by a bright white light and enlivened by the bursting bouquet of red gladioli on the small breakfast table. The chair looks as if it has just been pushed back from the table, creating a sense of immediacy--of the flowering present, rather than the fading past. At the left, however, a cluster of disembodied heads rise like ghostly apparitions from the floral bouquet, the dramatis personae of Chagall's fantastical pictorial universe taking their place in this very real space. The flowers act as a link between different realms of experience, a device that Matisse often used as well in his paintings of the open window (e.g. fig. 3, which Chagall had very likely seen in the collection of Ivan Morosov in Moscow). Meyer has concluded:

"For his encounter with the landscape to produce an allegory of the relationship of soul and world, Chagall nearly always required the intervention of figures or flowers, of something near before the distance--for his problem was not the relation between the structure of his field of vision and the structure of the world, but the relation between the inmost soul and the spiritual forces without. So it is only through a nearness, with which the soul is in direct contact, that the distance is clearly grasped" (ibid., p. 338).

(fig. 1) Chagall at the window of 13, quai d'Anjou, Paris, 1958-1959. BARCODE: 28862116

(fig. 2) Marc Chagall, Paris par la fenêtre, 1913. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. BARCODE: 28862123

(fig. 3) Henri Matisse, Paysage vu d'une fenêtre, Tanger, 1912. Pushkin State Museum, Moscow. BARCODE: 28862147

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