The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Saltimbanque, a vibrant and richly-detailed work depicting a whimsical clown atop a purple circus animal, was painted during a period of unparalleled happiness and contentment for Chagall and his family. Facing increasing intolerance under the new Russian regime, Chagall returned to Paris in 1923 where he was immediately enchanted by the liberty, light and color of his adoptive homeland. Now a respected and successful artist, he benefited from the financial security afforded him through sales of his works and exhibitions in France, Germany and New York and was able to explore France at his leisure. Chagall exclaimed:
In Paris I frequented neither schools nor teachers. I found them in the city itself, at every step, everywhere. There were tradesmen in the market, the café waiters, the concierges, the peasants, the workers. Around them hovered this astonishing 'freedom-light,' which I have never seen elsewhere. And this light passed easily onto the canvases of the great French masters and was reborn in art. I couldn't help thinking: only this 'freedom-light,' more luminous than all the sources of artificial light, can give birth to such shining canvases, in which revolutions in technique are as natural as the language, the gestures, the work of the passers-by in the street (quoted in Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 74).
Chagall had befriended the legendary dealer Ambroise Vollard in Paris, who in 1927 invited him to share his box seats at the Cirque d'Hiver that season. Inspired by this exhilarating spectacle, Chagall painted 19 gouaches which formed the Cirque Vollard (Meyer nos. 481-487 and nos. 492-503). Within the Cirque Vollard, Franz Meyer has classified two cycles, the second of which, painted in the winter of 1927-1928, included Saltimbanques. Meyer describes the later works in the Cirque Vollard as having "a more refined, nervous and elegant vivacity" than the circus scenes painted earlier in 1927. "The life force is transformed into a firework of figural magic and sparkling light. In some the color flickers before the dark ground as if the objects were bathed in moonlight" (in op. cit., p. 366).
The wildly imaginative and colorful circus scenes embody the more carefree and optimistic mood of the artist during these years. Concentrating on the visual vocabulary of the circus in this series, Chagall was able to elaborate on the minutiae that this form of entertainment provided: the whimsical costumes, the theatrical make-up, the acrobatic movements of the clowns and animals in the arena. While many of Chagall's later works are known for incorporating a vast visual lexicon and unlimited spatial and pictorial possibilities, the circus scenes are unique in their focused exploration and elaborate treatment of a particular scene.