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

L'écuyère en blanc

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
L'écuyère en blanc
signed 'Chagall' (lower right)
gouache, colored wax crayons and pencil on paper
19 7/8 x 25 5/8 in. (50.5 x 65 cm.)
Executed in 1941
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist, 1941).
Otto Preminger, New York (by 1965).
Mrs. Otto Preminger (by descent from the above); sale, Christie's, New York, 8 November 2006, lot 3.
Acquired at the above sale by the family of the present owners.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, New York, 1963, p. 437, no. 705 (illustrated).
Marc Chagall: A Celebration, exh. cat., Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1977 (illustrated in situ).
J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall, Cologne, 2008, pp. 156-157 (illustrated in situ).
S.T. Goodman, ed., Chagall: Love, War and Exile, exh. cat., The Jewish Museum, New York, 2013, p. 49 (illustrated in situ).
New York, Pierre Matisse Galleries, Marc Chagall: Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings and Gouaches from 1910 to 1941, November-December 1941, no. 20 (titled Cirque and dated 1940).

Brought to you by

Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Throughout his career, the theme of the circus lay at the very heart of Chagall’s personal mythology. “A great art,” he wrote, “[the circus] has been the most poignant cry in a man’s search for amusement and joy” (“The Circus,” in Marc Chagall, Le Cirque, exh. cat., Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1981). There were also times, as in 1941, during some of the most desperate hours of the Second World War, when the circus would serve Chagall as an allegory for profoundly serious events. L’éucuyère en blanc tells a miraculous story of survival and deliverance.
On 10 May 1940–the day German armies invaded France–Chagall purchased a house in the Provençal town of Gordes, where he hoped he, his wife Bella and daughter Ida could safely spend the duration of the war. The subsequent defeat of France was cause for grave concern, but it was not until October, when the puppet regime in Vichy began to enact Nazi racial policies directed at Jews, that Chagall and Bella finally realized they must leave Europe. Having closed their home, and taken a large crate of the artist’s paintings in tow, Chagall and his family arrived on 9 April 1941 in Marseilles, where they anxiously awaited exit papers that would permit their passage to America.
The American vice-counsel Hiram Bingham and Varian Fry of the American Rescue Committee had a guarantee of security from Solomon R. Guggenheim and a promise of sponsorship from Alfred H. Barr, Jr. The Fund for Jewish Refugee Writers would finance the artist’s crossing to America. Chagall, however, would not leave until he and his family had obtained French re-entry visas, a difficult process that would delay their departure. There was no time to lose; after only a few days in Marseille, Chagall was detained during a round-up of Jews in the refugee hotels, but was released the same day when Fry threatened to publicize the artist’s plight in the international press. Making their way via Madrid to Lisbon, Chagall and Bella found a ship, and arrived in New York on 21 June. For some tense weeks Ida’s fate was uncertain, but she later joined them, together with the crate of paintings.
It is unclear if Chagall painted L’écuyère en blanc in France in apprehension of these dangerous circumstances and the uncertain journey ahead, or after his arrival New York, while reflecting upon these recent tribulations. Here an equestrian circus act masks the ancient Greek myth which recounts the rape of Europa, in which Bella has become the fateful victim, borne off to a foreign land not on the back of the god Zeus transformed into a bull, but on a typically Chagallian hybrid beast, which may allude to the iconic red horse which a naked youth rides in Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s painting of 1912, and the long-horned bull in Valentin Serov’s depiction of the Europa fable, painted in 1910. The green goat at lower left is perhaps Chagall’s counterpart to the dolphin which rides the great wave in Serov’s painting. Bella’s deep sadness at leaving behind her European roots is embodied in the small shtetl boy who reaches behind her. Chagall is the yellow clown who struggles with the horned creature to prevent her abduction. A blue fiddler, an Orpheus-like figure, ruefully laments the scene. Chagall returned to France after the war; sadly Bella did not, dying of a viral infection in 1944.
L’écuyère en blanc featured in Chagall’s first wartime exhibition in New York, which took place at the Pierre Matisse Gallery during November-December 1941. The painting’s previous long-time owner was Otto Preminger (1905-1986), the famed Hollywood film and Broadway stage director, who was born in Bukovina, now Ukraine, and emigrated from Vienna to America in 1935.

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