‘There are many painters of the circus: Seurat, Lautrec, Rouault, Léger,’ as the poet Louis Aragon has reminded us. They have all painted clowns. ‘I should like some day to see their canvases alongside of Chagall's. Not by way of competition or classification of masterpieces, nor to give one a higher rating than another, or bestow a prize. But to compare the variety of the attraction the circus exercised over them. One would perceive with a certain surprise that perhaps only in Chagall do all the senses play a prominent role’ (in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 195).
From the 1950s onwards Chagall's reputation as a colourist was enhanced by his designs for stained glass windows. The scale of his late easel paintings and the new intensities of colour show the same energy and freedom. Le Rappel, with its vibrant shades of red, orange and gold, is a rich kaleidoscope of colour. The figure dominating the scene is clearly one of the circus performers who inhabited so many of Chagall's late paintings. Behind this flamboyant figure one catches glimpses of the musicians and the audience arranged around the circus ring. The head of an animal is also visible to the left. It may be that the central performer, his arms outstretched, is inviting us to join in this crowded, lively scene which represents a rich celebration of life. As Franz Meyer writes, ‘In Chagall's oeuvre, circus and music belong to the same group of motifs, and music, like the circus, is a primeval art which, though abstract, represents life in all its force.’ (Meyer, Chagall, London, 1964, pp. 159-160).
The title, Le Rappel, is ambiguous. It could be translated as meaning the 'curtain-call' which would be apt considering the subject of the painting; however, it could also be translated as the 'reminder' and thus we could take it to mean that Chagall wanted his work to remind us of life's great variety.
‘Chagall's images of circus people owe nothing to anyone; they are once burlesque and tender,’ Lionello Venturi observed. ‘Their perspective and sentiment, their fantastic forms, suggest that the painter is amusing himself in a freer mood than usual; and the result is eloquent of the unmistakable purity flowing from Chagall's heart...the mature realizations of earlier dreams’ (Marc Chagall, New York, 1945, p. 39).