This work is sold with a photo-certificate from the Comité Chagall.
Deux clowns à cheval is part of Chagall's project the Cirque Vollard, for which Ambroise Vollard from commissioned him 19 gouaches in 1927. Vollard often invited the artist to the Cirque d'Hiver in the evenings, where Vollard had a box for the season, drawing Chagall in directly to the dramatic sphere of the circus. By 1927, Chagall was very familiar with the stage world, having completed one of his most ambitious commissions, the decoration of the Jewish Theatre in Moscow in 1920, as well as producing many costume designs for various ballets.
Chagall's encounter with the circus goes back to his childhood and his Hassidic roots, when acrobats and musicians performed for religious ceremonies in the streets of Vitebsk. He clearly expressed his fascination with clowns, struck by the undercurrent of tragedy in their eyes, 'I have always regarded clowns, acrobats and actors as beings of tragic humanity, to my mind they resemble the figures of certain religious paintings'. In the Deux clowns à cheval, the static acrobats with their almost frieze-like profiles create a spiritual contrast with the dynamism and excitement of the circus setting. Chagall emphasises the latter by depicting a snapshot view of the stage, with the horse and the trapezist purposely cut off, and by adding a few vibrant brushstrokes to the background.
Throughout his oeuvre, Chagall sought to create his own dream-like world of fantasy, where he challenged the laws of gravity and where anything could happen. The circus stage presented Chagall with the perfect ground for his characters to perform the most extraordinary acts, such as acrobats effortlessly suspended in the air, and the depiction of animals blurring the boundaries between the animal and human worlds. In the present drawing the unfinished aspect embodies this immaterial and almost surreal nature of Chagall's circus, which he described as 'a magic spectacle which passes by like the affairs of the world and melts'.
(fig. 1) Ambroise Vollard with André Derain and Marc, Ida and Bella Chagall, circa 1924.