The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The present work relates to a series of paintings executed between 1952 and 1956 and referred to by Franz Meyer as The Paris Series. These works present some of Chagall's most recognisable imagery against the backdrop of the most famous landmarks of Paris, such as L'Opéra, Notre-Dame and La Bastille. In the present work, we see the Gothic spire of La Sainte-Chapelle in the foreground, with a bird's eye view from Île de la Cité showing the Seine receding into the distance.
Throughout Chagall’s long and illustrious career, his paintings chronologically reflect his emotions, providing the beholder with a window into the artist’s soul. Chagall’s most evocative and powerful images are those that weave the threads of real life with those of
dreamscapes, the iconographic with the fantastic. Often instilled with deeply personal and poetic motifs, which are reflective of the themes of love, nostalgia and fantasy, Chagall regales figments of his memory and imagination, frequently depicting them through an array of floating figures and symbols, set in dreamlike settings. La Sainte-Chapelle, étude reflects Chagall’s marvelously inventive and fantastical pictorial universe.
Unlike other artist’s of the day Chagall was not afraid of sentimentality and saw that it was essential to his work, stating, 'If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing' (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 1995, p. 16). He defended this self-reflective way of working, declaring, ‘All our interior world is reality - and perhaps more so than our apparent world…To call everything that appears illogical, 'fantasy,' fairy tale, or chimera would be practically to admit not understanding nature’ (quoted in B. Harshav, ed., Marc Chagall on Art and Culture, Palo Alto, 2003, pp. 81-82).
Using the device of the open window, a feature he developed in 1913, Chagall creates a fluid boundary between the symbolic realms of the present and past, the real and imaginary. Franz Meyer reiterates, ‘The window is the boundary between indoors and out, the opening in the wall through which the eye escapes into the distance, but which one can also shut in order to turn one's gaze inwards. Chagall's preference for the window picture fits the particular situation of the artist who never gives 'the outside' a loose rein but relates 'inside' and 'outside' to each other as in a parable’ (F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, p. 337).
This division between the real and unreal is highlighted by the inclusion of the cockerel, which is seen as a symbol of his Russian heritage. It is for the artist a sign of his deep attachment to his childhood, marked by religious folklore and the omnipresence of domestic beasts raised by his family. The coq, or rooster, occupies a position in Chagall's personal mythology similar to that of the Minotaur in Picasso's private symbolism. In both cases the artist has projected himself into non-human form, and in this process has transformed the designated creature into a personal avatar, which the artist is then free to use as a surrogate in his paintings, with Chagall often using it to stress humour and lyricism, or, as seen here, as a romantic partner to Bella.
In La Sainte-Chapelle, étude Chagall deploys an unusual compositional format, placing the enlarged cockerel in the centre of the painting, so that it dwarfs the moon and the city scene below. In doing so the artist eschews perspective and any sense of realism, highlighting the imaginary aspect of this work. Meyer explains the need for such a format: ‘For his encounter with the landscape to produce an allegory of the relationship of soul and world, Chagall nearly always required the intervention of figures or flowers, of something near before the distance--for his problem was not the relation between the structure of his field of vision and the structure of the world, but the relation between the inmost soul and the spiritual forces without. So it is only through a nearness, with which the soul is in direct contact, that the distance is clearly grasped’ (ibid., p. 338).