The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this gouache.
In the late 1920s, as Chagall was finishing the final gouaches for Ambroise Vollard based on La Fontaine's fables, Vollard suggested that the artist next undertake a series about the circus. During the winter of 1926-1927, Chagall painted nineteen gouaches, including some that were based on sketches which he made in Vollard's box at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris. The variety of figures and poses in these works provided elements to which the artist would return again many times in his career.
The circus was for Chagall not merely a source of picturesque and unconventional characters. In manner similar to Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso before him, Chagall understood the circus as a stage on which types emblematic of different aspects of the condition humaine played out their roles. Their world was one of changing appearances and magical transformations. In 1967 Chagall wrote: "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 colors and make-up, I dream of painting new psychic distortions" (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 197).
Such "distortions" abound in the present gouache. Here the artist depicts the parade, the procession of clowns, riders, acrobats and animals which signals the beginning of a performance. A bareback rider pirouettes atop a large rooster, a clown juggles five small caps on his head. A fish out-of-water joins the group. Most remarkable of all, however, is the musician playing a double-bass at the center of the composition. It is either a woman with a goat's head or a goat with a woman's body. Her human head is perched atop her instrument. Another goat-human plays a violin; both musicians recall the Dionysian tradition of the satyr-musician, and reflect the total abandon with which these characters throw themselves into their work. Chagall wrote: "It is a magic world, circus, a timeless dancing game where tears and smiles, the play of arms and legs takes the form of a great art" (ibid.).