Chagall found endless pleasure in depicting the visual splendor of the circus. Throughout his career he drew great creative energy from watching the event, and some of his most important canvases are fantastic depictions that exaggerate the pageantry of the performance. "It's a magic world, the circus," Chagall once wrote, "an age-old game that is danced, and in which tears and smiles, the play of arms and legs take the form of great art... The circus is the performance that seems to me the most tragic. Throughout the centuries, it has been man's most piercing cry in his search for entertainment and joy. It often takes the form of lofty poetry. I seem to see a Don Quixote in search of an ideal, like that marvelous clown who wept and dreamed of human love."
Le Cirque was part of Ida Chagall's collection of her father's works. Ida Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Russia to Chagall and his first wife, Bella Rosenfeld. The imagery of Vitebsk was often incorporated by the artist in his compositions and served as part of his personal mythology. In 1990, by then in her early seventies, Ida donated over one-hundred works by Chagall to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The present work formed part of the museum's permanent collection until its deaccession in 2011. Ida's second husband Franz Meyer, a director of the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland, wrote the famed Marc Chagall monograph on the artist while Ida arranged and curated many exhibitions of her father's work.
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