The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
‘I brought my objects with me from Russia. Paris shed its light on them.’ – Marc Chagall
(Chagall, quoted in F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, New York, 1964p. 100).
‘No academy could have given me all I discovered by getting my teeth into the exhibitions, the shop windows, and the museum of Paris.’ – Marc Chagall
(Chagall, My Life, London, 2013, p. 102)
When Marc Chagall arrived in Paris during the summer of 1910 he was awestruck by the hectic pace, striking colours and bright lights of the bustling metropolis. Though plagued by intense bouts of homesickness during his first weeks in the French capital, he was quickly seduced by the visceral energy of the city and entered one of the most productive and revolutionary stages of his artistic career. Les charpentiers was painted while the artist was living and working in the famous La Rûche, an artistic community established by Alfred Boucher in Montparnasse which counted amongst its residents at the time Chaïm Soutine, Alexander Archipenko, Amedeo Modigliani, Ossip Zadkine and Fernand Léger. Alongside his personal encounters with members of the Parisian avant-garde, the city’s wealth of artistic treasures proved revelatory to Chagall, from the great masters he saw at the Louvre, to the examples of Impressionist painting found amongst the stock of the legendary dealers and commercial galleries that populated the rue Lafitte, to the cutting edge compositions of the Fauves, the Cubists and the Orphists on show at the Salon des Indépendants. Completely immersing himself in the richly diverse artistic culture of Paris, Chagall’s approach to colour, form and subject matter was transformed and his painterly aesthetic was radically altered for good.
Chagall was so energised by his experiences in Paris, by the sheer vitality of the city and its revolutionary artistic milieu, that he often worked through the night, feverishly trying to assimilate everything he had seen. As a result, gouache became an important medium within his practice, offering him a more instantaneous means of translating his thoughts and ideas into visual form. Imbued with a sense of spontaneity, these delicate, colourful works illustrate what André Breton would later describe as the ‘total lyrical explosion’ of Chagall’s years in Paris (Breton, quoted in F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, New York, 1964, p. 132). Drawing on the artist’s memories of his homeland of Vitebsk, and in particular, the play of life on the rural outskirts of the small town where the houses gave way to open fields, these gouaches synthesise Chagall’s earlier interest in folkloric subject matter with the radical colours and simplified structures popular amongst the Parisian avant-garde at this time. In Les charpentiers, the quartet of skilled craftsmen are shown in various stages of work, chopping, cutting and shaping the raw wooden logs into building materials, while in the distance, a labourer treks through the fields, a pair of buckets balanced on one shoulder. As with many of the 1912 gouaches, Chagall depicts his characters in exaggerated, theatrical poses to accentuate the play of action within the scene, while the bright, saturated colours begin to veer away from naturalistic representation and into a bold, idiosyncratic form of expressionism.
Blending his memories, nostalgic fantasies, and the mysterious ancient legends of his Hasidic upbringing with the bold language of modernism, Chagall reached a breakthrough in Paris that allowed his artistic imagination to reach new heights. As he later explained: ‘I was at last able to express, in my work, some of the more elegiac or moon-struck joy that I had experienced in Russia, the joy that once in a while expresses itself in a few of my childhood memories from Vitebsk. But I had never wanted to paint like any other painter. I always dreamed of some new kind of art that would be different. In Paris, I at last saw as in a vision the kind of art that I actually wanted to create. It was an intuition of a new psychic dimension in my paintings’ (Chagall, quoted in J. Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, London, 2008, pp. 135-136). Shortly after its creation Les charpentiers entered the collection of Herwarth and Nell Walden, proprietors of the acclaimed Berlin gallery Der Sturm. The Waldens were amongst the earliest collectors and promoters of Chagall’s work in Europe, showcasing his compositions in several important exhibitions that would prove key to the artist’s rise to fame in Germany during the pre-War period.