This work is sold with a photo-certificate from the Comité Chagall.
‘For me a circus is a magic show that appears and disappears like a world. A circus is disturbing, it is profound... It is a magic world, circus is a timeless game where tears and smiles, the play of the arms and legs take the form of great art.’
The present work was personally selected and loaned by the artist himself for his 1984 solo exhibition of works on paper at the revered Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Executed across a large sheet, Chagall fills the entire composition with topsy-turvy bareback riders, clowns and violinists, using the dynamic and immediate nature of the brush and ink technique to conjure a wonderful sense of swirling energy, and mystery, in the mind of his viewer. In the lower foreground, carefully placed dabs of brilliantly contrasting green gouache heighten the bouquet of flowers drawing the eye down, thereby artfully creating depth and solidity within this fanciful scene. Becoming part of the work, viewing it from within the audience of the circus ring, Le cirque beautifully captures the spectacle and wonderful dynamism of the circus in all its splendour.
The circus grew to become one of Chagall’s favourite subjects, reoccurring throughout his artistic career. 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 that the artist undertake a second group of pictures, based this time on the theme of the circus. Chagall painted a suite of gouaches, Le cirque Vollard, many of which were based on sketches that he drew while enjoying the spectacle of the Paris Cirque d’Hiver from Vollard’s reserved box seats. The variety of the characters and their performing roles in these works would provide Chagall with a series of motifs to which he returned on many subsequent occasions, and many of which we see celebrated within the current work. In his own words, Chagall observed, ‘It is in the circus that eccentricity and simplicity blend most naturally’. Le cirque is indeed a fine example of this enduring fascination Chagall felt for the subject and has been rightly cherished within the same private collection over the last few decades.