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Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
signed 'Chagall' (lower right)
oil, gouache, pastel and charcoal on paper laid down on paper
23 x 18 in. (58.5 x 45.7 cm.)
Executed circa 1960
Galerie de la Boétie, New York.
Private collection, New York (acquired from the above, 1964); sale, Christie's, London, 18 June 2007, lot 67.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Lot Essay

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

Meditation is a powerfully philosophical and spiritual work, rooted firmly in Chagall's memories of his Hassidic Jewish upbringing in Vitebsk. Unlike his celebratory paintings of gravity defying figures floating through the air or clutching in an airborne embrace, the bearded man in Meditation is firmly earthbound. Huddled against a vast snowy terrain, his introspective pose severs him from the world in an internal communication with God. Clutching a Torah to his body, his head reverently bowed, he sits in solemn contemplation of the sacred text, whilst far off in the distance a temple and houses of a village peek above the horizon. His detachment from the village can be seen to represent the Jew in exile, a figure longing for the far off lands of Israel.
The bearded man, attired in the long dark coat and Kashkel cap typically worn by the poor Jewish communities in Belarus in which Chagall grew up, is a recurrent presence in his paintings, paying tribute to the artist’s beloved homeland and the Jewish culture that shaped him. Chagall remained deeply connected to his Russian and Jewish heritage throughout his life, often including motifs and references from his childhood in his art; “the soil that nourished the roots of my art was Vitebsk,” he wrote, “...my paintings are memories” (Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall 1887-1985, Cologne, 1998, p. 19). Vitebsk and all the impressions associated with it emerge continuously: the violinist or fiddler, a traditional Jewish symbol that Chagall vividly recalled from his childhood, often appears in different forms.
He did not directly treat biblical themes, however, until 1930, when his dealer Ambroise Vollard, who was also a devotee and publisher of illustrated books, commissioned him to create a series of etchings for a Bible edition. Chagall began to paint gouaches of biblical stories to prepare for this new project (Meyer, nos. 585-601). “I did not see the Bible, I dreamed it,” he explained in the early 1960s to Franz Meyer, then his son-in-law (quoted in F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1964, p. 384). The artist decided that he must travel to Palestine to experience first-hand the land of the Bible and its peoples.
During February 1931, Chagall, his wife Bella and daughter Ida toured Alexandria, Cairo and the Pyramids, and thereafter spent the greater part of their journey in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Upon their return to France in April, the artist told a friend, “The air of the land of Israel makes men wise–we have old traditions” (quoted in ibid., p. 385). Chagall travelled to Israel three more times, in 1951, 1957 and 1969. The religious overtones of Chagall's work would be repeated throughout the 1930s and later, and the present subject’s somber reflective posture in Meditation—eyes closed and isolated in prayer and set under a dark wintry sky—appears derived from the painting Solitude of 1933, housed in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Chagall once stated “If I were not a Jew, I wouldn't have been an artist, or I would have been a different artist altogether” and Meditation is both a universal symbol of the Jewish faith as well a personal remembrance of his profound connection to the native lands from which he was an exile (M. Chagall quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 170).

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