MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
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MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
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MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)

La fête des tabernacles (Souccot)

MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
La fête des tabernacles (Souccot)
signed 'Marc Chagall' (in Hebrew, lower left); signed 'M. Chagall' (in Cyrillic, lower right)
gouache, coloured ink, India ink and pen and wash and pencil on paper
18 ½ x 25 1⁄8 in. (47 x 63.8 cm.)
Executed in Vitebsk in 1916-1918
Yakov Rosenfeld [the artist's brother in law], Leningrad.
E.J. Van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam (no. G 8580), by November 1965.
Ernst & Felicia von Abensperg und Traun, Vienna & Bergisch-Gladbach, by whom acquired from the above by 1967.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 1996, lot 31.
Private collection, by whom acquired at the above sale, and thence by descent to the present owners.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, New York, 1963, no. 257, p. 750 (illustrated p. 642; with incorrect dimensions).
A. P. de Mandiargues, Chagall, Paris, 1974, no. 20, p. 203 (illustrated p. 39; dated ‘1916’ and with incorrect dimensions).
J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall, Cologne, 1998, p. 79 (illustrated p. 78; dated '1917').
Amsterdam, E. J. Van Wisselingh & Co., Maîtres français XIXme et XXme siècles, November - December 1965.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Chagall, May - July 1967, no. 204, p. 39 (dated '1917').
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Marc Chagall: Werke aus sechs Jahrzehnten, September - October 1967, no. 70, p. 32 (dated '1917').
Further Details
The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Filled with soft washes of delicate pastel colour, La fête des tabernacles (Souccot) is a rare, early work from Marc Chagall’s pivotal years in Russia during the late 1910s. The artist had returned from Paris in the summer of 1914 to celebrate a family wedding and although he had initially planned to stay for just a short visit, the outbreak of the First World War left him stranded in his native Vitebsk. While Chagall mourned this forced separation from his most recent work and the dynamism of his life among the artistic avant-garde in France, the ensuing years brought a number of positive developments in both his personal and professional life – in 1915 he married his great love, Bella Rosenfeld, and the following year the couple welcomed their daughter Ida. Life in Vitebsk, meanwhile, provided a wealth of intriguing subject matter and inspiration for his creative imagination: ‘I painted everything I saw,’ he later reflected on this period. ‘I was satisfied with a hedge, a signpost, a floor, a chair’ (quoted in J. Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, London, 2008, p. 182). Turning his attention to the array of celebrations, traditions and rituals that governed life in his hometown at this time, Chagall solidified his unique artistic vision, developing themes and ideas that would define his painting for the rest of his career.

La fête des tabernacles (Souccot) is related to a commission Chagall received to create murals for a secondary school in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) that was attached to the city’s main synagogue, an important project that reveals the artist’s growing reputation in Russia at this time. Though the murals were never realised, Chagall’s preparatory sketches and preliminary works reveal the evolution of his ideas for the commission, focusing on a variety of scenes and celebrations from the Jewish calendar. Here, gently worked veils of colour and delicate lines define this intimate scene of a meal eaten during the festival of Sukkot, which commemorates the forty years spent wandering the desert after escaping enslavement in Egypt. As part of the festivities, a simple, outdoor shelter known as the sukkah is erected, serving as the central hub for familial life. While the walls of the sukkah can be any material, the roof is often thatched or made of branches, which provide some shade but still allow glimpses of the stars above.

In her memoirs, Bella Chagall recalled the excitement that surrounded the construction of the sukkah through her childhood: ‘A cart loaded with pine branches drove into the yard… The planks of the walls were up and nailed together, but the roof was still open and the sky peered in. My brothers climbed up ladders and stood on chairs to pass the branches to one another, waving them about like the lulav, or palm branch, used in the holiday celebrations… The branches were piled so thick no star could shine through. A cool twilight reigned within. Only through the chinks in the walls could a few rays of light struggle in. / In the middle of the booth a long table was installed, with benches on either side. The floor was just bare earth, and the legs of the table and benches stuck in the damp ground, which clung to our shoes’ (quoted in S. Compton, Chagall, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, pp. 192-193).

In La fête des tabernacles (Souccot), a man and a young boy sit beneath a covering of greenery as delicate as filagree, a modest meal laid out on the table, while a woman reaches from the doorway of their home, through the window carved into the walls of the sukkah, to deliver another dish for the feast. To the left of the shelter, a man wanders through the yard carrying the four special species of vegetation (palm fronds, myrtle, willow and citron) used in ceremonies and prayers throughout the festival, the individual features of each plant carefully delineated by Chagall through quick strokes of gouache, pencil and ink.

As the art critic Aleksandr Benois noted in his April 1916 review of Chagall’s work, it was this ability to infuse such quotidian, familiar scenes with a certain magic and sense of the profound, that marked the innate power of his bourgeoning aesthetic: ‘…what is charming in his work is not his exotic character but this capacity for capturing the soul of anything… he is a true painter, a painter right through to his fingertips, able, in his moments d’élection, to allow himself to be carried away by his inspiration, while submitting to the rules of his craft’ (quoted in A. Kamensky, Chagall: The Russian Years 1907-1922, London, 1989, p. 260).

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