Lot 215
  • 215

Marc Chagall

700,000 - 1,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Marc Chagall
  • L'Ane au violoncelle ou Cirque au soleil ou Variante du "Cirque sur fond noir"
  • Signed Chagall Marc (lower right)
  • Gouache, tempera, pastel, brush and ink and pencil on paper


Findlay Galleries, New York
Private Collection, New Jersey (acquired from the above in 1978)
Thence by descent

Catalogue Note

Ever since his childhood, when he had seen the acrobats in the streets of the Russian town of Vitebsk, Marc Chagall was fascinated by the circus and its theater. On moving to Paris in the 1920s, he frequented Cirque d’hiver with art dealer Ambroise Vollard—a circus enthusiast who had his own private loge there. From the 1920s to the end of his working career, Chagall would depict jugglers and acrobats, circuses and clowns, with sustained color and exuberance: their bright and brilliant invasion into the regular pace of everyday life, an allegory for his own art.

For Chagall, the circus was the captivating conduit between the tangible world that encircled him and the hyper-reality of his pictorial world. Trapeze artists defying gravity and animals performing tricks echoed and informed the floating figures and creatures of his canvases. The breath-taking colors, style and energy compelled and inspired him. He observed: "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 Jacob Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, 1995, p. 196).

The present work sees a group of performers, in some form of routine, each contending for the attention of the viewer. In the ring with them are familiar characters from Chagall’s distinctive visual vocabulary: a miniature bird, an over-sized cockerel and a cello-playing goat. Audience members are softly denoted in the background as mute observers. By contrast, the vibrancy of the circus floor is rendered in light brushstrokes and a bold palette that sees hues of red, green, blue and yellow fluently combine. Pablo Picasso—with whom Chagall was known to have had a competitive working relationship—adroitly observed of the Eastern European artist: “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who still knows what color is” (quoted in Marc Chagall. Ursprung und Wege (exhibition catalogue), Stadhalle, Balingen & Liège, Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, 1998, p. 12). 

On the verso of the present work is a sketch for one of Chagall's largest and most important works, La Commedia dell Arte, from 1958.