Signed Chagall (lower right)
Painted circa 1924.
Frederick Knize, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1947
New York, Galerie Chalette, Chagall: A Selection of Paintings from American Museums and Private Collections, 1958, no. 5
Philadelphia Museum of Art; London, Royal Academy of Arts, Marc Chagall,1984-1985, no. 45
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Marc Chagall, 1996-1997
Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1963, illustrated p. 333
Werner Schmalenbach, Bilder des 20.Jahrhunmderts, Die Kunstsammlung Nordrehin-Westfalen Dusseldorf, Munich, 1986, p. 60
Jacob Baal-Teshuva (ed.), Chagall, A Retrospective, New York, 1995, illustrated p. 115
In June 1914 Chagall traveled to Berlin to attend the opening of his first one-man show consisting of 40 oils and 160 gouaches at the Herwarth Walden’s Galerie der Sturm. On June 15 he returned to Vitebsk to attend his sister’s wedding and to see Bella. It had been his intention to stay for three months before returning to Paris but the outbreak of World War 1 made this impossible and he stayed in Russia for the next eight years. After the excitement of Paris and Berlin, the provincial atmosphere of Vitebsk depressed him at first but he soon found that the rich cultural and religious life of his birthplace offered a remarkable range of subject matter for him to explore.
Many of the first works executed in Vitebsk are depictions of his family and scenes of village life. Others focus on individuals, notably the extraordinary series of portraits of old men to which the present work belongs. Le Juif en vert, Le Juif en rouge, Le Juif en noir et blanc (see figs. 1, 2 and 3) were inspired by the appearance of local old men and beggars. Chagall has given an account of the circumstances under which Le Juif en noir et blanc were painted: “Another old man passes by our house. Gray hair, sullen expression. A sack on his back… I wonder. Is it possible for him to open his mouth, even to beg for charity.? Indeed, he says nothing. He enters and stays discreetly near the door. There he stands for a long time. And if you give him anything, he goes out, as he came in, without a word.” (Marc Chagall, My Life, p. 9, quoted in Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1963, p.221) After draping his father’s prayer stole over him, he painted one of his most memorable paintings.
Less naturalistic than the series of portraits of old men, Jour de Fête(Rabbi au citron) represents an aspect of Jewish ritual. As described by Susan Compton: “ In his right hand, the rabbi holds an etrog, a lemon, and in his left the lulav, a palm branch, to which are tied a branch of myrtle and willow. This identifies the feast of the title with Succot, the Feast of the Tabernacles, which Chagall presented in another form in 1917. The Feast is first mentioned in Leviticus XXIII, 40, ‘On the first day you shall take the fruit of citrus trees, palm fronds, and leafy branches, and willows from the riverside, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.’ The artist has added a touch of fantasy in the doppelganger perched on the rabbi’s head. Dressed slightly differently and lacking the ritual emblems, the ‘other’ faces away from his host as though reluctant to celebrate the Feast. Or maybe he simply represents ‘another’, the one who ‘gets on my back’: Chagall’s symbol is a potent myth with multiple possible interpretations. Another paradox in the scene is the doorway on the left: the harvest thanksgiving feast is associated with a temporary building, a tabernacle, but the artist has introduced a permanent doorway to suggest frontiers of different realities, as he had with the open door of the tomb in Resurrection of Lazarus. However, he has adopted a quite different style here, with no suggestion of the fraternization with Cubism that had occupied him in Paris” ( Chagall, Royal Academy of Arts, London (exhibition catalogue), 1985, p. 188).
The first version of this painting is now in the collection of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf (see fig.4). Chagall returned to this theme in Paris in 1924 when he painted replicas of a number of some of his most celebrated earlier paintings, including the work under discussion, L’Anniversaire (see fig.5) and Le Juif en noir et blanc (fig.6) Since his studio in La Ruche had been looted at the beginning of the war and most of his early works were in Germany or Russia, he had very few points of reference as far as his own work was concerned. Hence the decision to paint replicas which he painted either from memory, with the help of photographs or from memory. Franz Meyer distinguished between replicas painted directly from the originals as with L’Anniversaire, variants which are not quite so true to the original since he did nor have access to them and new versions of old pictures.
The present work is an extremely faithful replica of the 1914 version, differing only in the decision not to crop the figure of the small rabbi standing on top of the rabbi’s head. The major difference today is in the coloration as the tone of violet used in the Düsseldorf picture has faded badly. Discussing the artist’s decisions to paint this important group of replicas and variants, Franz Meyer commented that “for Chagall the motif has an intrinsic value of its own and can therefore, in an almost medieval sense, be separated from the individual achievement and utilized again and again. Needless to say, the impact of the contemporary stylistic phase and the contemporary stylistic transposition of the motif vary according to whether a picture is a replica,, a variant, or a new version of a former work” (Franz Meyer, Chagall, New York, 1963, p. 324).
The first owner of this work, Frederick Knize, was born Fritz Wolff-Knize in Vienna in 1890. Knize, who died in 1949, was well-known as a collector of Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka.
Fig. 1, Marc Chagall, Le Juif en vert, 1914, oil on cardboard mounted, Im Obersteg collection at the Kunstmuseum, Basel
Fig. 2, Marc Chagall, Le Juif en rouge, 1915, oil on canvas, St.Petersburg, State Russian Museum
Fig. 3, Marc Chagall, Le Juif en noir et blanc, 1914, oil on canvas, Im Obersteg Collection at the Kunstmuseum, Basel
Fig. 4, Marc Chagall, Jour de fête (Le rabbin au citron), 1914, oil on cardboard, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf
Fig. 5, Marc Chagall, L’Anniversaire, 1923, oil on canvas, Tokyo
Fig. 6, Marc Chagall, Le Juif en noir et blanc, 1923, oil on canvas, The Art Instiotute of Chicago Joseph Winterbotham collection.
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