Lot 46
  • 46

Marc Chagall

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 GBP
7,026,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Marc Chagall
  • Le violoncelliste
  • signed Marc Chagall and dated 1939 (lower left)
  • oil on canvas


Pierre Alexandre Regnault, Laren & Amsterdam (acquired from the artist in 1940. Sold: Paul Brandt, Amsterdam, 22nd & 23rd October 1958, lot 15)

Sir Edward & Lady Hulton, London (purchased at the above sale)

Marlborough Gallery, New York

Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1981


Paris, Galerie Mai, Chagall, Œuvres récentes, 1940

New York, The Museum of Modern Art & Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Marc Chagall, 1946-47, no. 47, illustrated in the catalogue

London, Tate Gallery, Marc Chagall, An Exhibition of Painting, Prints, Books Illustrations and Theatre Designs 1908-1947, 1948, no. 46

Ostend, Palais des Thermes, Gloires de la peinture moderne. Hommage à James Ensor, 1949, no. 37, illustrated in the catalogue

The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Hommage à James Ensor, 1949, no. 37

Düsseldorf, Kunstverein, Chagall, 1949

Leyden, Stedelijk Museum, De Lakenhal, 1949

Eindhoven, Stedelijk Van Abbe-Museum, Marc Chagall en Massimo Campigli uit de collective P. A. Regnault, 1950, no. 8, illustrated in the catalogue

Zurich, Kunsthaus, Marc Chagall, 1950-51, no. 55

Bern, Kunsthalle, Chagall, 1951, no. 53

Heerlen, Hôtel de Ville, 1951

Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Marc Chagall, 1955, no. 28, illustrated in the catalogue

Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art & Kyoto, Municipal Museum of Kyoto, Marc Chagall, 1963, no. 62, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Wuppertal, Kunst und Museumverein; Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen; Frankfurt, Frankfurter Kunstverein; Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus & Dortmund, Museum am Ostwall, The Collection of Sir Edward and Lady Hulton, 1964-65, no. 5, illustrated in the catalogue

Zurich, Kunsthaus, Chagall, 1967, no. 104, illustrated in the catalogue

Cologne, Kunsthalle Köln, Chagall, 1967, no. 117, illustrated in the catalogue

Zurich, Kunsthaus, Sammlung Sir Edward und Lady Hulton, 1967-68, no. 7

Paris, Grand Palais, Hommage à Marc Chagall, 1970, no. 86, illustrated in the catalogue

Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Marc Chagall, 1970, no. 42, illustrated in the catalogue


‘Les expositions, Chagall, œuvres récentes’, in Cahiers d’Art, nos. 1 & 2, 1940, illustrated pl. 35

Lionello Venturi, Marc Chagall, New York, 1945, illustrated pl. XLVII

James Johnson Sweeney, Marc Chagall, New York, 1946, illustrated p. 67

Jacques Lassaigne, Marc Chagall, Paris, 1947, p. 109

Ole Vinding, ‘Marc Chagall’, in Kunsten I Dag, no. 2, 1949, illustrated p. 49

Walter Erben, Chagall, London, 1957, no. 37, illustrated

Werner Haftmann, Painting in the Twentieth Century, London, 1960, illustrated p. 396

Franz Meyer, Mark Chagall, Life and Work, London, 1961, illustrated in colour p. 423

John Rothenstein, ‘Om Hulton-samlingen’, in Louisiana Revy, December 1965, illustrated on the cover

Tadao Takemoto, Chagall, Tokyo, 1970, illustrated in colour pl. 41

Caroline Roodenburg-Schadd, Goed modern werk: de collectie Regnault in het Stedelijk, Zwolle, 1995, illustrated in a photograph

Catalogue Note

The present work was executed during Chagall’s second period in France, where he returned in 1923 and stayed until his move to the United States during the Second World War. 1939, when Le Violoncelliste was executed, was a momentous year in Chagall’s life: while his international reputation as a leading artist of the Ecole de Paris was rapidly growing – that year he received the Carnegie Prize – the threat of war forced him to leave Paris and take refuge in Saint-Dye-sur-Loire in the south of France, where he also hid some of his canvases. That year also marked an important shift in Chagall’s art; while he often used motifs developed in his earlier career, with the looming war on the horizon his works acquired a more symbolic, multi-layered character, and his canvases became more tightly composed and more densely coloured.


During Chagall’s years in France, his subjects were divided between those inspired by his adopted country and those reminiscent of his native Russia, with the two often combined in his phantasmagorical compositions. In the present work, the large figure of a cellist dominates the canvas, accompanied by a violin-playing goat. The two musicians are depicted on a snow-covered village square, the houses and church in the background reminiscent of the artist’s native Vitebsk. An iconic image in the artist’s œuvre, this theme that can be traced back to his celebrated Le Violiniste of 1912-13 (fig. 1), now in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and another closely related composition of the same title, painted in 1923-24, now at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (fig. 2). Belonging to the world of circus and street entertainment, the cellist or violinist has a twofold character: at once joyful, vividly coloured, and melancholic. In the present work, this dichotomy is powerfully represented in the two-faced image of the cellist, who appears to be looking straight ahead at the viewer, as well as sideways at the violist.


Accompanied by a full moon and leaves scattered in the night sky, the two figures embody a world of fantasy and childhood memories, that provided emotional and mental refuge for the artist. Musicians were among Chagall’s favourites subjects since the early days of his career. Indeed, Le Violoncelliste evokes the fantasy and harmony of Russian rural life, a domain to which Chagall often escaped throughout his mature life. Given the lack of formal orchestras and cultural institutions such as concerts or museums, the street musician was an important figure in the life of a Russian village, representing arts and popular culture. Discussing another depiction of a violinist, Susan Compton described Chagall’s musician as ‘not so much a “real” person as a means of transcending everyday life’ (S. Compton in Chagall (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, p. 181).


Chagall’s biographer Franz Meyer, who described Le Violoncelliste as an ‘important picture’ from this period, wrote about the present work: ‘Walter Erben was quite justified in writing under the impact of this work: “The musician, two faced Orpheus, is the instrument he plays, and the houses of Vitebsk, now brought quite close, are the walls of Thebes that his song conjures up.” But the motif of the man playing on his own body as if it were a cello is older still […]. Here, as once before in Pregnant Woman of 1913, the basically contradictory nature of all creatures is symbolized by the conjunction of a full face with a profile, as in other works of the same period in the superposition of a human and an animal head or the fusion of a boy’s head with a girl’s. […] All the details are linked – man and instrument, full face and profile, hair and sky. The tune is taken up not only by the little animal-headed musician, but by all the forms of the picture which thus play it too. Every form is densely saturated with color, laid on thickly, layer on layer. In this way the color becomes body and its material nature is lined with its radiance’ (F. Meyer, op. cit., p. 426).