Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Départ du village

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Départ du village
stamped with signature 'Marc Chagall' (lower right)
oil on canvas
35 7/8 x 29 in. (91.8 x 73.6 cm.)
Painted in 1971-1974
Estate of the artist.
Private collection, Japan (circa 1985).
Acquired by the present owner, 2009.
Utsunomiya Museum of Art; Tsu, Mie Prefectural Art Museum and Chiba City Museum of Art, Marc Chagall and Jewish Mysticism, February-July 2007, p. 184, no. 40 (illustrated in color, p. 142; dated 1972 and titled Le Chevalier).

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Lot Essay

The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The wondrous vitality of Chagall's imagination, as youthfully whimsical and impetuous as ever, empowered him in his late paintings to become—like Pablo Picasso, notwithstanding the strong differences in their backgrounds and temperament—the impresario, auteur, director and a leading player in a lively theater of memory. Just as Picasso drew heavily on his ancestral Mediterranean roots, so Chagall became the artificer of a pictorial realm based on multiple personal mythologies he had evolved for himself as the proverbial Wandering Jew. He assembled during his migrations and occasional travels a diverse iconography that evoked his early years in Russia, his love of Paris and the French countryside, a wartime transatlantic exile in America, and then again France, where finally he made his home by the Mediterranean, not far from Picasso.
Eager to observe, first hand, current conditions in his ancestral homeland, at a time when Cold War tensions were still simmering, Chagall decided to visit Chairman Brezhnev's Soviet Union. He journeyed to Moscow in June 1973. This visit was the first time—and sadly, too, the last—he set foot on Russian soil since he had left behind in 1922 the chaos and privations of the post-revolutionary period.
Painted in 1971-1974, the present work depicts the old, pre-revolutionary Vitebsk, the cradle of the artist's birth, childhood and early manhood—indeed, Chagall’s very beginnings as an artist. Chagall's feelings of self-identity drew strength from this potent sense of place, signifying his Russian-ness, his beginnings as a child of the shtetl and a denizen of the Jewish Pale. During his 1973 trip, however, he declined to visit the town. "There are memories one should not disturb," he explained. "I have not seen Vitebsk for sixty years. What I should see there today would be incomprehensible to me. That which forms one of the living elements in my paintings would prove to be non-existent" (quoted in J. Wullschlager, Chagall: A Biography, New York, 2008, p. 513).
The primary image in the present painting is, of course, the horse and young male rider, which Chagall has cast as a variant of the circus, which became the prevailing and favorite theme among the artist's personal mythologies in his late work. He found in his vision and dream of the circus world the ultimate metaphor for that life of an artist he had decided to pursue, filled with—as fortune would decree—the joy of romance and the excitement of skillful bravado, which nevertheless remained the struggle for a livelihood, a risky existence which might result in the reward of public acclaim, or the lonely disappointment of obscurity and failure.
However, this scene is by no means the colorful spectacle of the fabled Cirque Médrano of Paris, or even the more modest entertainment provided by an itinerant troupe of saltimbanques in Montmartre. We bear witness instead to the local village man clad in everyday dress atop a dray horse, attracting an audience of peasants and workers from the humble wooden huts of a shtetl on the vast dark and stormy steppes of Russia. Chagall has probably inserted himself as the horse arrayed in the melancholy blueness of a dream.

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