Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Property from an Important Private American Collection
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Le village bleu

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Le village bleu
signed ‘Marc Chagall’ (lower right); signed again ‘Marc Chagall’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28 5/8 x 36 1/8 in. (72.7 x 91.7 cm.)
Painted in 1967
Galerie de l'Elysée (Alex Maguy), Paris.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, December 1969.

Lot Essay

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

The dramatic contrasts in color, the lavish handling of paint as matière on the canvas, and especially the numerous motifs that Chagall incorporated into this composition, imbue Le village bleu with purposeful stature. Chagall sought to create allegories in his art—poetically visual metaphors that embody and reflect upon situations and occurrences in real life, past and present, which may augur for the future as well. The image for Chagall always contained a meaning within its visual aspect; he composed his subjects as complex scenarios in which such individually significant elements interact in multiple ways.
Chagall’s life stories stem from the idiosyncrasy of memory and the primal foundation of myth, the mingling of the personal with the universal aspects of our humanity. The primary impetus in the artist’s imagination that unites both spheres is always eros, either as unabashed libido or its more cultured refinements—the irresistible, indelible power of fertile, life-affirming love—ever more profound and all-consuming, as if by cumulative effect, for Chagall in the wisdom of his eightieth year. The ever-present lovers are in his memory perennially young, wholly enraptured newly-weds—in Le village bleu the face of one affectionately reflects the radiant light of the other.
The young man in a little hat—or elsewhere, if bare-headed, sporting tousled, curly locks—is always Chagall himself, often in the company of his totemic goat. She, her brow framed in short bangs, whether veiled as a bride or even nude as seen here, is always Chagall’s first wife Bella, who died in 1944. For decades afterward they would continue to tryst in his paintings, here against the backdrop of a rustic village cast in blue shadows against the setting sun, perhaps just as it was back in 1909, when Chagall first met his wife-to-be in the Jewish quarter of the Belarussian town of Vitebsk.
The broken line of shtetl rooftops against the sky, as conjured from the artist’s memory, resembles the medieval hill-top town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, as Chagall and his second wife Vava would have viewed the horizon from their new home, “La Colline”, on Le Chemin des Gardettes to the east. In 1966, wary of encroaching land development, they moved from the first house that Chagall had purchased in the Midi sixteen years previously, in Vence, some three miles distant. The studio in their new villa was specially designed to facilitate Chagall’s every need. The artist had been working continuously since 1958 on commissions in tapestry, mosaics, and stained-glass, for projects in France, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, and America—it seems astonishing that he found any time to paint at all. Chagall’s new studio, however, inspired a renewed commitment to working in oils on canvas; Le village bleu was among the initial vintage of paintings to issue from this workspace.
The fiery sky and eerie glow on the shtetl dwellings and the village inhabitants, including a peasant mother and her infant, are an ominous portent, as are the sinister mask at upper left and the awkwardly lunging, acquisitive fellow in the opposite corner. Chagall likely painted Le village bleu in the tense weeks leading up to, or not long after, the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War, which ran its brief but decisive course during 5-10 June 1967. Israel launched pre-emptive air strikes against Egypt, which had mobilized its armed forces and closed the Straits of Tiran, cutting off Israeli access to the Red Sea. Israeli troops crossed into the Sinai, and struck back at Jordan, Syria, and Iraq when they entered the conflict as allies of Egypt.
Chagall published a statement on 6 June in the Tel Aviv Yiddish journal Di Goldene Keyt: “Would that I were younger, to leave my paintings and brushes, and go, fly together with you—with sweet joy to give up my last years. I have always painted pictures where human love floods my colors. Day and night I dreamed that something would change in the souls and relations of people…We now stand before the great world trial of the soul: will all dear visions and ideals of human world culture of two thousand years be blown away in the wind?” (B. Harshav, ed., Marc Chagall on Art and Culture, Stanford, 2003, p. 168). At the conclusion of the war, the artist wrote his friend Kadish Luz, speaker of the Israeli Knesset, “My heart is relieved…Though I am older, I feel stronger with the strength of Israel” (B. Harshav, ed., Marc Chagall and his Times, Stanford, 2004, p. 919).
Le village bleu is moreover, then, Chagall’s allegory of his love for Israel and the Jewish people, expressing the sadness and concern that had been welling up in his heart for an entire lifetime, as he remembered the persecution of many he knew, in the Czarist pogroms, the Stalinist purges, the Holocaust, and in 1967 the dire threats to destroy the nation of Israel. “I have always thought that, without human or biblical feelings in your heart, life has no value,” he wrote on 6 June 1967 (op. cit., 2003, p. 168). During June-October the Louvre exhibited the seventeen large paintings and 38 gouaches of his Message biblique series, which became the centerpiece display in the Musée national message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, inaugurated in 1973—the first museum sponsored by the French state to honor a living artist.

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