The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by the Comité Chagall.
with The Gallery of Jewish Art, New York, 1945
Acquired from the above by Max Cottin
Thence by descent to Jack Cottin, son of the above, and his wife Lillian Cottin
Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, no. 625, illustrated and titled Synogogue á Vilna
Martin Weyl, 'Chagall's Interior of a Synagogue in Safed', The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1992, pp. 23-30, no. 5, illustrated p. 28
Ziva Amishai-Maisels, 'Chagall in the Holy Land', The Real and Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art; Studies in Honor of Bezalel Narkiss on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, The Journal of Jewish Art, vol. 23/24, Jerusalem: Hebrew University, Center for Jewish Art, 1998, pp. 513-542
Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, Sergey Kravtsov, Vladimir Levin, Giedrė Mickūnaitė, Jurgita Šiaučiūnaitė-Verbickienė (eds.), Synagogues in Lithuania. A Catalogue, Volume II, Vilnius, pending publication
Property from the Collection of Lillian and Jack Cottin, New York (lots 13 – 22)
Sotheby's is honored to present this group of paintings by Chagall, Moyse and other Jewish artists from the Collection of Lillian and Jack Cottin.
The quest to decode the mystery of three long-forgotten Chagall paintings was a fascinating journey into a little known aspect of his oeuvre. A tantalizing clue to the significance of the paintings was found in a small cache of letters between Chagall and Max Cottin, the father of Jack Cottin, who purchased the paintings at the Gallery of Jewish Art, New York in 1945. The artist clearly cared very deeply for these works. The letters, written in the 1960s and 1970s, contain repeated requests for images. A final letter stated that the artist may want to buy back the paintings, or would consider an exchange; the request was poignantly but firmly declined. In all, only six finished oils of synagogue interiors by Chagall are known. These three are now available to the public for the first time in 66 years.
Copies of the correspondence relating to the Chagall paintings will be provided to the purchasers of these lots.
Sotheby's thanks Dr. Ziva Amishai-Maisels for her essay Chagall's Synagogue "Portraits" (p. 18-19) and her assistance with the cataloguing of these lots.
The "kloyz" of the Vilna Gaon is known from a few rare photographs, none of which show the ark of the synagogue and the beautiful stained glass windows on either side. Chagall's painting is thus of great historical as well as artistic significance. This painting will be published in Volume II of Synagogues of Lithuania: A Catalogue, now in preparation.
The term "kloyz" generally referred to the private synagogue and study hall of a great Rabbinic leader. Only close associates who exemplified Torah learning and piety were invited to pray and study in the Rabbi's "kloyz". The synagogue was completely destroyed in World War II (fig. 3).
Jack Cottin expressed his great affection for this painting in a letter to Chagall dated July 20, 1964: 'The paintings are a strong link with my heritage. I sometimes think that the one dated "Wilno 1935" is closest to me, because my family is from a small town nearby.'
While in Vilna in 1935, Chagall also painted an interior of the Great Vilna Synagogue (Private collection, Paris, fig. 1). The following poem recalls his visit:
The Vilna Synagogue, by Marc Chagall 
(Poem in Yiddish)
The old shul, the old street
I painted them just yesteryear.
Now smoke rises there, and ash
And the parokhet is lost.
Where are your Torah scrolls?
The lamps, menorahs, chandeliers?
The air, generations filled with their breath?
It evaporated in the sky.
Trembling, I put the color,
The green color of the Ark of the Covenant.
I bowed in tears,
Alone in the shul – a last witness.
Benjamin Harshav, Marc Chagall and His Times, A Documentary Narrative, Stanford, 2004. p. 538. Harshav notes that while Chagall visited Vilna in 1935, "the poem is clearly written from a distance, and during the Holocaust." Footnote p. 986
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