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

Arlequin à la lune jaune

MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Arlequin à la lune jaune
signed 'Marc Chagall' (lower right); signed again 'Chagall' (on the rightmost figure)
gouache, pastel and pencil on paper
26 x 20 1/8 in. (65.9 x 51 cm.)
Executed in 1969
Galerie Maeght, Paris.
Galerie Heinz Berggruen, Paris.
I. A. & Cecile Mann Victor, New York & Dallas, and thence by descent to their estate; sale, Christie’s, New York, 11 May 1989, lot 222.
Private collection, New York; sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 14 May 1992, lot 175.
Galleria del Sogno, Lugano, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Christie’s, London, 2 December 1996, lot 50.
Private collection, Cologne by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Sotheby’s, London 7 December 1999, lot 62.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 18 May 2022, lot 240.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Derrière le Miroir: Marc Chagall, December 1969 - January 1970, no. 14, p. 32.
Lugano, Galleria del Sogno, Marc Chagall: Le cirque, les fleurs, October 1992 - January 1993, p. 23 (illustrated).
Linz, Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, Marc Chagall, March - June 1994, no. 95, p. 202 (illustrated).
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.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

The outlandish, astounding spectacle of the circus – with its myriad performers and fantastical rituals – is among the most important subjects of Marc Chagall’s œuvre, one which he reinvented endlessly throughout his long, prolific career. ‘These clowns, bareback riders and acrobats have made themselves at home in my visions,’ he wrote. ‘With them I can move toward new horizons. Lured by their colours and make-up, I can dream of painting new psychic distortions’ (M. Chagall quoted in Marc Chagall: Le Cirque, Paintings 1969-80, exh. cat., Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1981 n. p.). With his endlessly imaginative approach to the subject, Chagall joined a distinguished group of avantgarde artists who made the circus a central theme of their work, from Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to Pablo Picasso and Georges Seurat. Bringing a lyricism to his troop of clowns, acrobats, and animals, Chagall depicted the essential spirit of the circus in his canvases and compositions.
Chagall’s passion for the circus had its roots in the performances that he saw as a child growing up in Vitebsk. Although countless performers passed through the village, he was profoundly affected by the members of one travelling family – a father and his children – who performed a series of simple but demanding stunts in an effort to entertain the villagers. With only a small selection of props, the trio appeared exhausted as they completed several precarious balancing acts, the crowd offering little applause for their struggles. Writing later in life, Chagall recalled that he was overwhelmed with empathy for the performers: ‘It seemed as if I had been the one bowing and bowing up there,’ he said (M. Chagall quoted in ibid., n. p.).
Images of travelling jesters and entertainers would continue to hold sway over Chagall’s psyche, and following his move to Paris in 1910, he began to frequent the city’s circuses such as the celebrated Cirque Médrano in Montmartre, renowned for its daring acts and opulent costumes, all illuminated by strings of electric lights. Inspired by the daring, high-wire feats, a new sense of showmanship entered Chagall’s work, encapsulating the Parisian cirque and its eye-catching style. He gave his figures a new sense of dynamism and, by placing them centre stage, emphasised their magnetism, a sense evident in the present work, Arlequin à la lune jaune, in which the crowd stares raptly at the gaggle of performers who contort and revel beneath the titular yellow moon.
Chagall would continue to visit the Big Top, drawing his impressions of the Cirque d’Hiver in the notebook he brought with him to shows. From crowds of excited spectators watching the action taking place in the ring, he captured the dazzling, chaotic atmosphere, a colourful play of events that together produced the greatest show on Earth. Yet he rarely reproduced the performances he saw, seeking instead to represent the energy of the circus itself. He regularly transposed figures external to the extravaganza, allowing them to fill the semi-autobiographical scenes he fashioned: In Arlequin à la lune jaune, the green-horned animal recalls the horses of Chagall’s youth in Vitebsk. ‘All my life,’ he said, ‘I have drawn horses that look more like donkeys or cows. I saw them in Lyozno, at my grandfather’s, where I often asked to go along to the neighbouring villages when he went to buy livestock for his butcher shop’ and in the present work they have found a new home under the big tent (M. Chagall, ‘The Circus’, 1967, reprinted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, Paris, 1995, p 197). It is no surprise, therefore, that one of Chagall’s favourite subjects was the equestrienne, often an accomplished female horseback rider whose daring manoeuvres seemed to defy reality.
Although enchanted by the pageantry, Chagall found the circus an apt metaphor for life itself. In the concurrent demonstrations of comedy and tragedy, melancholy and cheer, he witnessed the entirety of the human experience. Seeking to embody this range of feeling, he rendered his pictorial visions with profound sincerity, explaining, ‘I did not want to spare any of the more moving, tender feelings in a picture of a clown or a circus rider, feelings which one would experience in painting a Madonna, a Christ, a rabbi with the Torah, or a pair of lovers’ (M. Chagall quoted in W. Erben, Marc Chagall, New York, 1957, p. 93). It is in the later works of his career such as Arlequin à la lune jaune in which the heady vivacity of the circus moves beyond pure spectacle to become an evocative and deeply moving depiction of life’s inherent paradoxes.

More from 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale

View All
View All