This intimate portrait of Bob Dylan’s then pregnant wife Sara (lot 57) can be dated quite definitively to the summer of 1968. Dylan received his first oil paints – a 27th birthday present from his wife – in late May of that year and asked his neighbour, the artist Bruce Dorfman, to show him the basics of how to use them. According to Dorfman, an ambitious Dylan first aimed for the style of Vermeer, followed by Monet and then Van Gogh, eventually finding Chagall: ‘It was perfect, because you had all these multi-layered images – things flying… rabbits with green faces. It was all there. Chagall was it. He made the connection.’ While Sara was in a New York hospital for the birth of their third child Samuel at the end of July, Dylan visited the Guggenheim with the poet Michael McClure, who remembers, ‘He had eyes for nothing but the Chagall. Chagall was the meaningful world for him.’ Dylan would continue to paint in the style of Chagall for some time, and his biographer Howard Sounes even poses that ‘something of Chagall’s dreamlike quality would permeate his songwriting in later years.’
The influence of Chagall can be seen clearly in the vibrant fauvist colours and the dreamy tranquillity of the floating figure. Clearly a cherished painting, the portrait was framed and hung in the living room of the Dylans’ Byrdcliff home. It can be seen in black and white photos taken by photographer Jill Krementz of Dylan at home with George Harrison on Thanksgiving 1968, one of which was published in Harrison’s 1980 autobiography I, Me, Mine, a copy of which is offered with the painting.
Ironically, the passion for painting Sara had inspired in Dylan when she gave him his first oil paints ultimately contributed to the breakdown of their marriage. In the spring of 1974 Dylan attended an art class conducted by Norman Raeben in New York, and became infatuated with the painter. Dylan would tell the Dallas Evening News in 1978: ‘I went home after that and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. That's when our marriage started breaking up. She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about. And I couldn't possibly explain it.’ In the midst of an acrimonious divorce, finalised in 1977, Dylan gave the portrait to his friend and majordomo Bernard Paturel.
Only in 2007 did Dylan start to exhibit his artwork and step publicly into the role of a painter, when an exhibition of The Drawn Blank Series was held in Chemnitz, Germany, followed by The Brazil Series at the Statens Museum, Copenhagen, in 2010–11. Since then, Dylan has been represented by famed art dealer Larry Gagosian, with The Asia Series and Revisionist Art: Thirty Works by Bob Dylan presented at Gagosian New York in 2011 and 2013, respectively.