MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE GERMAN COLLECTION
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)

Etude pour 'Le Saoul'

MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Etude pour 'Le Saoul'
signed, dated and inscribed ‘Chagall 911-12 Paris’ (lower right)
gouache, watercolour, brush and ink and pencil on paper; with another study in gouache and ink on the reverse
9 1⁄2 x 11 7⁄8 in. (24 x 30.3 cm.)
Executed in Paris in 1911-1912
Herbert von Garvens-Garvensburg, Hanover & Bornholm, by whom probably acquired directly from the artist, and thence by descent; sale, Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett Roman Norbert Ketterer, Stuttgart, 30 November 1955, lot 917.
Acquired at the above sale and thence by descent to the present owner.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, no. 74, p. 746 (illustrated n.p.; with incorrect provenance).
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Post lot text
The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Keith Gill Head of Evening Sale, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Executed in 1911-12, Etude pour Le Saoul is a rare and important gouache from a pivotal period in Marc Chagall’s career. In early 1910, the twenty-year old artist had left his home in the small town of Vitebsk, venturing westward by train to Paris, a city that would come to represent freedom and light in his imagination. Just two days after his arrival in the French capital, Chagall visited the Salon des Indépendants, where he was immersed in the latest developments of the contemporary avant-garde art scene, discovering the work of the Fauves, the Cubists, and the Orphists for the first time.

Shortly thereafter, he took a studio in bohemian Montparnasse in the legendary building known as La Ruche (the ‘bee-hive’), where some of the most innovative painters, poets and sculptors of the day congregated – Chaïm Soutine, Alexander Archipenko, Amedeo Modigliani, Ossip Zadkine and Fernand Léger all held studios here at this time. Inspired by this atmosphere of rich cultural exchange and innovation, Chagall entered a phase of intense creativity and imaginative growth, as he synthesised different elements of the most radical styles of the period with his own uniquely fantastical subject matter. 

Despite Chagall’s enthusiasm for Paris, nearly all of his works from these seminal years are tinged by memories and experiences from the artist’s youth in Vitebsk. Following a brief period during which he revisited several of his earlier pre-Paris compositions, exploring their subjects through a new radical vocabulary of colour and form, he embarked upon a series of important gouaches and watercolours that reveal the new direction of his creative spirit. Filled with a distinct spontaneity and freedom of execution, these colourful works chart the rapid development of Chagall’s style at this time. As Franz Meyer has observed, these works ‘express, in all its breadth, the tempestuous flood of invention that flows through Chagall’s Paris period… In the hot rhythm of the motifs, alternately isolated and combined, and in the interplay of the loosely sketched or strongly accentuated forms we can feel the essential pulse of his art’ (Marc Chagall: Life and Work, New York, 1964, p. 131).

Etude pour Le Saoul is the first study in a series of sketches, gouaches, watercolours and paintings dedicated to the subject of Le Saoul or ‘The Drunkard.’ Within a vibrantly-hued room, a well-dressed man is seated at a rustic table cluttered with playing cards, a fish and a bowl of fruit, a sharp knife poised on his lap. Though an inquisitive cow thrusts her head through the open window, the man remains oblivious to the goings on around him, his head hovering, ghost-like above the floating bottle. Stretching towards it to take a sip of the alcohol it contains, his head separates entirely away from his body, which appears to pull desperately away in the opposite direction. Though the artist later said, ‘it was my colour that demanded the overturned chair, the cut-off head,’ here the division captures a sense of the internal conflict of the central character, as he attempts to fight the impulse to indulge his vices (quoted in ibid., p. 138).

The subject clearly captivated Chagall intensely at this time – the reverse of the present sheet is filled with a second sketch on the same theme, loosely rendered in rapid strokes of watercolour. Three years later, the artist would return to the composition of the present gouache once again, in an illustration for the front page of Herwarth Walden’s influential German avant-garde periodical, Der Sturm, which marked the occasion of his first solo-show at the Berlin gallery of the same name. Etude pour Le Saoul’ was purchased, most likely directly from the artist, by the Hamburg-based collector Herbert von Garvens-Garvensburg, whose interest in contemporary avant-garde art had been inspired by a visit to the Belgian painter James Ensor in Ostend in 1910. Last sold in 1955, this brilliantly coloured gouache has remained in the same family collection for over sixty years.

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