MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
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MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
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Property from an Esteemed Private Collection
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)

Les Fiancés ou Souvenir de Mille et une nuits

MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Les Fiancés ou Souvenir de Mille et une nuits
signed 'Marc Chagall' (lower right)
oil, tempera and brush and India ink on canvas
51 ¼ x 35 in. (130.2 x 89 cm.)
Painted circa 1973-1975
Estate of the artist.
Ida Chagall, Paris (by descent from the above).
Corporate collection, Japan; sale, Christie’s, New York, 19 November 1998, lot 350.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Further details
The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Marc Chagall’s Les Fiancés ou Souvenir de Mille et une nuits depicts a resplendent nocturnal vision. In characteristically sumptuous colors, the artist has painted his titular affianced couple reaching towards one another in a gesture of hope. Here, the moon dazzles, illuminating faces and mythical creatures hidden in the night sky. Inspiration for the present work came from One Thousand and One Nights, the collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories that date from the early ninth century. The epic concerns Scheherazade who, in order to stave off her execution, weaves a succession of gripping tales each night to her new husband, King Shahraya. She narrates comedic moments, historical events, and great loves, themes that enthrall her husband and spoke to Chagall who too sought to immerse his viewers “in a world of illusions and visions” (I. Antonova, “Fantastic Chagall,” 1987 reproduced in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 73).
Dominating the composition is the radiant sapphire blue ground against which swathes of red, yellow, and purple glow brightly. Similarly saturated blues first appeared in Chagall’s paintings around 1910, and the richly opulent color quickly became a hallmark of the artist’s practice, evoking the ultramarines used by Veneto painters during the Renaissance. In Chagall’s application, however, the color serves as a vehicle for his expressive, emotive art, appearing to “magically create[e] light from dark” (M. Guerman, S. Forestier, and D. Wigal, Marc Chagall: Vitebsk, Paris, New York, New York, 2019, n.p.).
The subject of Les Fiancés was one Chagall first engaged with in 1946 when his friend, the publisher Jacques Schiffrin, asked the artist to illustrate a new edition of One Thousand and One Nights. Chagall created a series of gouaches and oils to accompany these stories, which then evolved into the thirteen related color lithographs, published in 1947, upon which Les Fiancés is based. Describing the series, Franz Meyer explained how Chagall combined motifs he had used previously in his Bible and Fables series, noting that “they find new life in the spirit of Arabian Nights” (Chagall, New York, 1964, p. 478). Meyer went on to write, “All is now richer and more resplendent, pervaded by that infinitely lissome grace that makes the text a delightful magic carpet. Reality is never final but is created before our eyes by the imagination of the storyteller who knows all the secret sources from which man’s fate springs ever new and different. This matches the reality depicted by Chagall, always in movement and in a state of flux” (ibid.).
Les Fiancés contains several motifs that Chagall returned to throughout his practice, notably that of the soaring lovers. In the present work, the amorous pair floats high above a city of domed roofs as if their joy has caused them to levitate. Happiness suffuses this moonlit scene. By the time Les Fiancés was painted, Chagall was living in the South of France with his second wife Valentina Brodsky, known as Vava. His life—and the world more broadly—looked remarkably different to that of 1946, and in returning to this earlier moment, Chagall recasts his message of optimism for a new era.

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