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

La barque Saint-Jean

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Chagall, M.
La barque Saint-Jean
signed and dated 'Marc Chagall 949' (lower right)
gouache, pastel, brush and India ink on paper
30 x 22 in. (76.2 x 56.5 cm.)
Painted in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, 1949
Emil Georg Bhrle, Zurich.
E. & A. Silbermann Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 14 April 1965, lot 42.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, New York, 1963, p. 759, no. 803 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Chagall returned to France in 1948 from his war-time exile in America. He was eager to rekindle his creative fires in the European environment that had sustained his art for almost four decades, and to overcome his grief at losing Bella, his wife for most of that time, who had died in upstate New York in 1944.

While living in Paris after his return, Chagall often received invitations from his friend the publisher Triade to visit Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where Triade lived for half of each year. Chagall became infatuated with the Cte d'Azur, an area which had already attracted many artists: Picasso lived in nearby Vallauris, and Matisse lived in Vence until 1948 and thereafter in Cimiez, near Nice. Triade, who was Greek-born, urged the artist and his companion Virginia McNeil to take up the Mediterranean lifestyle, and the couple rented a house in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. In 1950 they moved to nearby Saint-Paul-de-Vence where they found a villa, "Les Collines," which the great poet Paul Valry had frequented years before. They restored the house, and Chagall set up a studio in a nearby building.

It is perhaps unusual to think of Chagall as a painter of landscapes; nevertheless, most of his paintings are rooted in a sense of place that is specifically related to the human, animal and floral motifs that he depicts. The artist may paint the snowy vastness and ghettos of his native Russia, views of metropolitan Paris, or the mountainous scenery of the French Alps; but invariably he uses landscape as a stage on which he places his characters and allows them to interact. In the present work Chagall clearly shows the shoreline around Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and at the same time depicts the timeless elements of the Mediterranean world. A blazing, all-powerful sun is at the center of a luminous blue universe where the sea mingles with the sky. Chagall's lovers are shown in an aerial boat whose helmsman is headless; they have embarked on a journey with no clear destination in a limitless cosmic dimension. A huge fish cavorts in the sea below, in the company of sailboats.

The rich, pervasive blue which appears in Chagall's paintings after the war no doubt owes much to the ultramarine splendor of the Mediterranean world. This radiant blue, which recalls the luminosity of stained glass, refers on one hand to the theme of sadness and mourning, but also reflects an experience of peace and serenity. "The eternal, transcendental Chagallesque blue reveals man's eternal longing for peace, security, eternity. It proceeds to the metaphysical realm where faith endows images with redeeming power" (R. Doschka, Marc Chagall zum 100. Geburtstag, exh. cat., Stadthalle, Balinger, 1986, p. 40).

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