MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
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MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)

Esquisse pour Le cheval rouge

Details
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Esquisse pour Le cheval rouge
signed 'Chagall Marc' (lower left)
gouache, pastel and pencil on paper
16 1⁄4 x 12 1⁄2 in. (41 x 31.7 cm.)
Executed in 1938-1944
Provenance
The estate of the artist, and thence by descent.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Further details
The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Michelle McMullan Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Esquisse pour Le cheval rouge emerged during one of the most turbulent periods of Marc Chagall’s life. Faced with the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Europe and the looming threat of war, the artist and his wife Bella had retreated to the French countryside in the late 1930s, staying first in the Loire valley, and then moving to the small village of Gordes near Avignon, where they purchased a former school. Setting up his studio in a room with the largest windows, which offered spectacular views over lavender fields and the nearby mountains, Chagall continued to work, concentrating largely on religious subjects and circus themes. Though shocked by the speed with which France fell to the German advances in 1940, it was not until the Vichy government began to pass anti-Semitic laws that the Chagalls accepted the full gravity of their situation and, following their daughter Ida’s urging, accepted an offer of refuge in New York, sailing westwards in June 1941.

Unlike other moments of migration and transition in Chagall’s life, when the artist fled Europe for America he was lucky enough to be able to transport a large portion of his creative oeuvre to his new home. Paintings and sketches, drawings and studies, were carefully packed away in cases and trunks and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, and over the ensuing years these compositions offered an important bridge for Chagall between his past and the present, as he adapted and adjusted to life in New York. Esquisse pour Le cheval rouge was among the works which made the journey – the composition was originally conceived in 1938, while the artist was still in France, and later completed in America. Photographs depicting the artist at work in his studio in New York in 1942 show Chagall working on the final oil version of Le cheval rouge, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes.

Filled with a vivid dynamism and rich sense of colour, Esquisse pour Le cheval rouge exudes an almost dream-like quality, blending fantasy and reality together to create a heady atmosphere that is at once intensely familiar and entirely unexpected. As Franz Meyer has noted, works from the late 1930s bear an ‘unmistakable, new, fairy-tale-tone,’ that ‘makes every picture seem bewitched despite its sensuous closeness’ (F. Meyer, pp. 422-424). Here, the characters boldly defy gravity, floating weightless through the internal space of the picture in a complex, interweaving arrangement. Above the townscape of Vitebsk, a trapeze artist flies through the air in a dramatic curve, his arms thrown outwards as if to catch the woman who strides towards him, her attention fixated on the book in her hands. An angel serenades the pair with a violin as it floats serenely beneath them, while a great crimson horse, untethered by a saddle or harness, soars through the air, a candle grasped in its forelegs.

Representing the earliest iteration of the composition, Esquisse pour Le cheval rouge offers an intriguing insight into the development of the scene and the artist’s style during these years, featuring a number of motifs and elements that would later disappear or be altered in the oil painting. For example, the delicately painted quotidian still-life in the bottom left corner of the composition, featuring a simple meal of fish, bread and fruit accompanied by wine, appears only in the present gouache, perhaps offering a glimpse into the simple rituals of the artist’s life in France before his departure for America. Similarly, the two figures who hover at the edge of the table, identified by Franz Meyer as the artist’s parents, would later disappear from the final composition, and yet here they offer an important counterpoint to the floating, weightless characters above, their bodies anchored in the townscape of Vitebsk. Perhaps most notable though, are the shifts that occur in the artist’s palette during these years, as the bright, sumptuous tones of the gouache give way to darker tones in the oil painting.

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