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Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Property from the Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. BassLike The Great American Novel, The Great American Family is exceedingly rare. Its fortune must be created by hazard and determination; its sons and daughters must be their forebears’ equal; its members must be civic-minded and their causes, reasoned and just. In short, The Great American Family leaves its country and community much the better for it. There are few such Great Families—and few greater than Bass.Beginning with Perry Richardson Bass and his wife, Nancy Lee, members of this distinguished family have enriched America, the state of Texas and the city of Fort Worth through an unwavering commitment to philanthropy and culture. The extraordinary Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass reflects the beauty and joy that defined the lives of two remarkable individuals and their shared, lasting legacy.Perry Bass was born in 1914 in Wichita Falls, Texas. When his father died in 1933, maternal uncle Sid W. Richardson became Perry’s mentor and, before long, his partner. A noted philanthropist and collector in his own right, Richardson rose from humble beginnings to make his mark as one of America’s savviest businessmen, amassing wealth through the discovery of oil fields in West Texas. Perry Bass joined Richardson in the oil industry in 1935; he would earn his BA from Yale in geology and geophysics two years later. Nephew and uncle remained partners until Richardson’s death in 1959, whereupon the fabled entrepreneur left most of his estate to charity. In 1960, Mr. Bass established Bass Brothers Enterprises, which went from strength to strength under his leadership and that of his four sons, Sid, Lee, Edward and Robert.Perry and his beloved wife, Nancy Lee Muse Bass, met in Fort Worth 1938 and married in 1941. A Fort Worth native and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Mrs. Bass’s passion for the arts—classical music, in particular—was fostered at an early age. Over the course of their sixty-five years together, Nancy Lee and Perry Bass led the transformation of Fort Worth into one of the nation’s most vibrant communities. “Nancy Lee was the first lady of Fort Worth,” remembered Kay Kimbell Carter Fortson, chairman of the Kimbell Art Foundation. “She was the matriarch and the mother not only to her family, but to all of Fort Worth.” Former Texas Governor Rick Perry declared that “Texas is a much better place because [Perry Bass] was Texan.” And the late pianist Van Cliburn—the Basses’ longtime next-door neighbor and friend—called Mr. Bass “a legend” and “a giant.”“Fort Worth,” The New York Times wrote in 2002, “has acquired the cultural ambitions of Florence under the Medicis.” For decades, Nancy Lee and Perry Bass stood at the heart of these efforts, providing significant financial support and unflagging energy to local institutions including the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth; the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame; the Sid W. Richardson Foundation; the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History; the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra; and the Kimbell Art Museum, which mounted an exhibition of the Bass Collection in 2015. “I don’t know if you could go to a museum or a cultural institution or any institution in Fort Worth,” observed Patricia W. Riley of the National Cowgirl Museum, “and not find [Nancy Lee’s] footprint.”The exceptional rarity and quality of the Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass epitomize the couple who assembled it. From their earliest acquisitions in the early 1960s—the thickly impastoed avant-garde paintings by Poliakoff and Riopelle and vivid Raoul Dufy harbor view—to Vuillard’s striking portrait of Yvonne Printemps, bought at auction in 1997, these works represent the best of Impressionist, Modern and Post-War Art. There is Bonnard’s Diebenkorn-before-Diebenkorn interior, from 1927; Calder’s “cosmic” 1947 oil, Seven, Black, Red and Blue; Chagall’s mysterious Fleurs, from 1928 and unimprovable circus scene from 1970; Van Dongen’s celebrated Portrait de Madame Malpel (circa 1908); Matisse’s exquisitely patterned, light-suffused Femmes sur un balcon (1921); Miró’s monumental 1933 Peinture; the large, lifetime cast of Rodin’s famous Baiser, which Perry gave to Nancy Lee on the occasion of their twenty-fifth anniversary; Rothko’s fiery red and yellow Untitled painting from 1969; and Van Gogh’s 1889 masterwork, Paysage avec laboureur.Aided and advised by Eugene V. Thaw, Klaus Perls and William Acquavella, the Basses were drawn to Impressionism, Fauvism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism—above all, to strong and expressive colorists. “A collection born with enthusiasm,” recalled Sid Bass, “became a lifetime of pleasure and joy.” In addition to her longstanding connection to the Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Mrs. Bass was also involved with the Collector’s Committee of the National Gallery of Art. In Washington, the Basses endowed an eponymous fund that has enabled works by Post-War and Contemporary artists from Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell and Morris Louis to Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin and Brice Marden, to enter the National Gallery’s permanent collection. For Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, sharing art in the public sphere was an extension of their lifelong dedication to improving communities.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Le cirque à l'Arc-en-Ciel

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Le cirque à l'Arc-en-Ciel
signed 'Marc Chagall' (lower right)
gouache, watercolor, pastel and black Conté crayon over pencil on Japan paper
35 7/8 x 23 ¾ in. (91 x 60.5 cm.)
Executed in 1969-1970
Galerie Maeght, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, July 1971.
Zürich, Galerie Maeght, Chagall: peintures, gouaches, dessins, lavis, June-September 1971, no. 27 (illustrated in color).
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Twentieth Century Art from Fort Worth and Dallas Collections, September-October 1974.
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, March-May 2015, p. 12, no. 5 (illustrated in color, p. 13; titled The Rainbow Circus and dated 1970).

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Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

“It is a magic world, circus, a timeless dancing game where tears and smiles, the play of arms and legs take the form of great art” (quoted in Chagall: A Retrospective, J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., New York, 1995, p. 196).
Painted in 1970, Le cirque à l'Arc-en-Ciel celebrates one of the most enduring themes within Marc Chagall’s oeuvre—the vibrant, colorful world of the circus. Filled with an eclectic cast of characters, from a violin-playing clown with a goat’s head, to an acrobat balancing precariously on one leg in mid-air, the scene is bursting with the riotous energy of the performance, a rich, whimsical atmosphere radiating outwards into the viewer’s space. Chagall’s fascination with the world of travelling players had begun as a young man in Vitebsk, where he recalled seeing a family of acrobats performing in the street, attracting a small crowd as they executed their modest repertoire of moves. Upon his arrival in Paris in 1910, Chagall found himself dazzled by the intense sensory stimulation and sense of spectacle which characterized the city’s circuses, a sharp contrast to his previous experiences of the travelling performers, and soon clowns, acrobats, and beautiful young women carrying out stunts on horseback began to weave their way into his personal artistic vocabulary. Executed in bold swathes of iridescent color, Le cirque à l'Arc-en-Ciel perfectly encapsulates the frenetic energy which so captivated Chagall, its cast of players sparkling under the electric lights, as they twirl around the ring in a swirl of movement.
The circus had become an important aspect of the artist’s oeuvre in 1927, as Chagall was finishing his series of one hundred gouaches based on the fables of La Fontaine. The dealer Ambroise Vollard, sponsor of this project, suggested the artist undertake a second group of pictures, based this time on the theme of the circus. The resulting suite of gouaches, titled Le Cirque Vollard, were based primarily on sketches that the artist drew from Vollard’s reserved box seats at the Paris Cirque d’Hiver. Chagall often brought his young daughter, Ida, with him to see the performances, although Sidney Alexander noted that “Marc was as childishly delighted with it as Ida” (S. Alexander, Chagall: A Biography, New York, 1978, p. 292). These experiences awoke in Chagall a renewed appreciation for the circus, and he would return to his memories of the performances on a regular basis over the following half century, exploring the fantastical nature and irrepressible spirit of the circus in numerous compositions. Discussing his preoccupation with this theme, Chagall explained the appeal of this subject: “These clowns, bareback riders, and acrobats have made themselves at home in my visions. Why? Why am I so touched by their make-up and their grimaces? With them I can move toward new horizons. Lured by their colours and make-up, I can dream of painting new psychic distortions” (Chagall, Le cirque, trans. Patsy Southgate, in Le Cirque: Paintings 1969-80, exh. cat., Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1981, n.p.).

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