Sale: Galerie Kornfeld, Bern, 15th June 2007, lot 18
Opera Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008
The present composition depicts the recognisable view of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, dominated by the church at its top. Chagall depicted a similar, although less panoramic, view of Saint-Paul-de-Vence in Le couple dans le paysage bleu of 1969-71 (fig. 1), with the Mediterranean seen to its right. In the present composition the blue sky above the town contains a large, bright yellow sun as well as various other elements from the artist’s iconography – animals, musicians and the flying couple. By juxtaposing this imagery, Soleil dans le ciel de Saint-Paul combines Chagall’s love of his Mediterranean home with his characteristic dream-like pictorial vision. With its free-flowing style and bright, translucent colours, the present work is a magnificent example of the effect that the south of France had on Chagall’s art. ‘The Southern French landscape has astonished Chagall with its wealth of colours and its lyrical atmosphere, had captivated him with the beauty of its flowers and foliage. These impressions found their way into his paintings of that period, refined their peinture and lent them a hitherto unknown radiance’ (Walter Erben, Marc Chagall, London, 1957, p. 134).
With its fantastical, dream-like composition, the painting becomes an expression of the artist’s internal feelings and souvenirs rather than an objective projection of the outside world and of the familiar landscape. As such, Chagall’s paintings defy symbolic meaning and categorisation. In particular, his dreamscapes resist interpretation despite the ubiquity of repeated pictorial symbols; through repetition they become both familiar and meaningless, manifestations of a rich and colourful imagination that can be understood not through intellect but through intuition. As the artist himself proclaimed: ‘For me a picture is a surface covered with representations of things (objects, animals, human beings) in a certain order in which logic and illustration have no importance. The visual effect of the composition is what is paramount’ (quoted in Susan Compton, Chagall (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, p. 21).
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