MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Private Collection
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)

Le Violoniste ou Le violoniste sur le banc

MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Le Violoniste ou Le violoniste sur le banc
signed 'Marc Chagall' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 3/8 x 22 3/8 in. (72 x 56.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1924-1925
Musée de l'Athénée, Geneva.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above, 18 April 1967).
Private collection, Mexico (acquired from the above, 14 January 1970).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Présence des maîtres, June-September 1967, no. 8 (illustrated in color; illustrated in color again on the back cover).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Infused with a vivid sense of color, Le Violoniste was painted during an important moment of retrospection for Marc Chagall, as he revisited a number of compositions and motifs that had been central to his artistic development in the early years of his career. At the same time, the painting reveals the growing ambition and evolution of the artist’s technique during the mid-1920s, as he embraced a bolder handling of paint, constructing the scene through richly textured layers of vibrant pigment. Last exhibited publicly in 1967, Le Violoniste was purchased by the family of the present owner in 1970 and has remained in the same private collection for the last fifty years.
When the First World War broke out in September 1914 Chagall found himself stranded in his native Vitebsk, having travelled home for a brief stay to celebrate a family wedding. When Chagall returned to Berlin eight years later, he discovered that the gallerist Herwarth Walden—unsure whether the artist was even alive—had sold almost all the paintings that had remained with him from before the conflict. The dealer refused to disclose the identity of the buyers and offered Chagall a pittance in settlement. The artist sued, hoping to force the return of his pictures, but after lengthy proceedings was able to recover only three oils. To make matters worse, when he arrived in Paris in the fall of 1923, Chagall found that his old studio had been looted and not a single painting remained. It was as if his artistic past had vanished. Profoundly affected by this loss, Chagall set himself the monumental task of re-creating his old work. By early 1924 he had been reunited with his wife Bella and young daughter Ida in Paris; establishing a studio at 101 avenue d’Orléans, he began to paint replicas and variants of many of these earlier canvases, symbolically reclaiming his property, and by extension his artistic identity.
Working in both gouache and oil, Chagall created new versions of several of his most important pre-war paintings as well as a number of compositions from his years in Russia, using reproductions where available, but largely relying on his memory to guide him. “The oeuvre of half a lifetime lay behind him, already famous and admired; but he had access to only a small fraction of it,” Franz Meyer has explained. “To make a new start he needed his old works, the imagery he had invented. It was to equip himself with what he felt his ‘own’ that he now painted the old pictures a second time” (Marc Chagall, Life and Work, London, 1964, p. 324). In Le Violoniste Chagall returned to a familiar subject of life in Russia, one he had initially explored over a decade earlier in 1914, and had subsequently revisited in a second version in 1920 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) while living in Moscow. In each, the titular violinist sits on a simple wooden bench in front of an izba, a cabin typical of the Russian countryside, comprised of roughly-hewn wooden logs. With his instrument tucked under one arm and bow loosely clasped in his other hand, the musician appears caught in a moment of rest, his violin silenced, as he awaits his next performance amid the snow covered landscape.
The violinist was a prominent recurring character in Chagall’s paintings, rooted in memories of the artist’s youth and his Hasidic Jewish upbringing, where music was an integral component in local religious processions, feast days, community celebrations, and weddings. For Chagall, the power of the violinist lay in his ability to convey the full range of emotions through a single instrument, from energetic, joyful tunes to sorrowful laments, that could in turn rouse or silence his listeners. As such, the character came to reflect the mystery and power of the creative act—as Jonathan Wilson has noted: “[the fiddler] was probably Chagall’s first apprehension of a performing artist; a creative individual who has both distance from the emotions that he excites and a commitment to technique. The fiddler is also a gypsy wanderer, a musical peddler whose art eases his passage between disparate worlds…” (Marc Chagall, New York, 2007, pp. 9-10).
While the 1920 version of Le Violoniste appears to have adhered closely to the original composition in style and palette, in the present variation Chagall imbues the scene with a bold new richness of color and sense of texture. Standing in sharp contrast to the pure white tones of the snow, both the figures and the house are rendered in thick layers of iridescent pigment, their forms depicted in varying shades of bright green, orange, lilac, and cobalt blue. This renewed sense of vibrancy in his choice of pigments marked an important shift in Chagall’s oeuvre during this period as his creativity was reinvigorated by life in Paris, and he returned once again to a brighter palette of primary colors. Across the canvas delicate, linear strokes of paint are contrasted against passages of heavy impasto, creating a richly worked texture that shifts and changes before the eye. Short, staccato daubs of pigment describe the curve of the violinist’s shoulders, for example, before transitioning into thin, directional strokes of paint that capture the crease of the material and the fall of light on his sleeve. Reveling in the very act of painting by playing with the materiality of his pigments, Chagall imbues Le Violoniste with a striking sense of dynamism, reinventing a familiar subject into a powerful new composition.

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