Executed in 1912.
(possibly) Kunsthalle, Bern
Eric Estorick, London (possibly acquired from the above in July 1957; transaction overseen by Ida Chagall)
Sir Leon Bagrit, London
Sale: Christie's, London, April 2, 1990, lot 34
Georg Waechter Memorial Foundation (sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 1 & 2, 1996, lot 7)
Acquired at the above sale
Petrograd, Bureau artistique de Dobytchina, 1916, no. 107
Hamburg, Kunstverein; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Marc Chagall, 1959, no. 195
London, Grosvenor Gallery, Two Decades of Experiments in Russian Art (1902-1922), 1962, no. 12
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Hommage à Marc Chagall, Les Années Russes 1907-1922, 1995, no. 118 (as dating from 1914)
Bern, Kunstmuseum; New York, The Jewish Museum, Marc Chagall, 1907-1912, 1995-96, no. 192
Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1963, illustrated p. 118
Camille Bourniquel, "Chagall, 1907-1917, Quatre thèmes," XXe siècle, Paris, May 1966, p. 27
Camille Bourniquel, et al., "Hommage à Marc Chagall," XXe siècle, Paris, November1969, p. 45
Jean Cassou, Chagall, Paris, 1982, illustrated p. 38
Leon Amile, "Homage to Chagall," XXe Siècle Review, New York, 1982, illustrated p. 34
Alexandre Kamenski, Chagall, Période Russe et Soviétique 1907-1922, Paris, 1988, illustrated p. 199
Richard Cork, "A Bitter Truth" -- Avant-garde Art and the Great War, New Haven and London, 1994, fig. 9, illustrated p. 20
The wonderfully colorful Soldats dates from the early period in Chagall's career, when he was working intermittently both in Paris and in Russia (see fig. 1). The artist arrived in Paris from his native Vitebsk in the summer of 1910, and remained in France until the months that preceded World War I. This depiction of soldiers, which foreshadows the militant events to come, was executed in 1912. Chagall was twenty at the time he completed this work, and later he recalled: “I came to Paris as though driven by destiny. Words that came from my heart flowed into my mouth. They almost suffocated me, I stammered. I came with thoughts and dreams such as one can only have when one is twenty.”
On the second day after his arrival in Paris, Chagall visited the Salon des Indépendants. There, he saw the works not only of the Fauves, but also the Cubists. Paintings by Derain, Léger, Picasso and Matisse hung alongside the vibrant paintings of Delaunay, who was to become the mentor of Paul Klee, August Macke and Chagall. Chagall soon moved into his lodgings in the legendary block of studios known as La Ruche in Montparnasse, a building reknowned for its cosmopolitan and Bohemian atmosphere. Chagall’s room was next to the one occupied by Modigliani and Soutine was also an inhabitant there at that time. The poets Guillaume Apollinaire, and Blaise Cendrars were frequent visitors to the house and it was in this atmosphere, charged with a creative passion for innovation, that Chagall at once started to paint.
Soldats, like most of Chagall’s works from the years he worked in Paris and Russia, evokes memories of the artist’s native Russia. In Paris, Chagall drew on his childhood experiences for the themes of his work and, in addition to the many paintings evoking scenes of Jewish life, he also incorporated figures of soldiers into several of his works. Soldiers had been a familiar sight during Chagall’s childhood, when soldiers fighting in the Russo-Japanese war were often billeted on families. He continued to depict these figures in many of the works that he completed while in Russia during World War I (see figs. 2 & 3). Chagall has treated his subject matter in the present work and in other works from 1912 (see fig. 4) in a “cubist” manner, embracing the aspects of Cubism that appealed to him and fusing them with his own style. As Franz Meyer wrote in a discussion of Chagall’s Cubism of 1912: “Cubist influences are repeatedly recorded and fused in his own personal idiom. …His external contacts with it [Cubism] became increasingly frequent, especially in Canudo’s circle, but there was not a single member of the contemporary school of Paris whose work exerted a fundamental influence on him” (Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1963, p. 177)
In the present work, despite the Cubist stylization, the figures are characteristically dominant. As Meyer stated: “The predominance of the human figure is a typical stylistic mark of Chagall’s 1912 period. We find it, too, in the gouaches of Russian scenes in which the figures are larger and occupy more space. The rhythm, too, becomes more urgent and the gestures, formerly ghostly, light, and penetrated by streams of bright vitality, become more forcible and at times achieve an evocative intensity. This is especially obvious in Carpenters (Meyer, no. 113) and Prayer at Night (Meyer, no. 111). The small composition Soldiers (the present work) depends for its impression on a phantom vitality. The single eyes, visible under the uniform cap, in the massive peasant heads combine to form a fascinating constellation. The colors – pale orange and dark pink before the acid green of the ground, culminating in the red cap bands – also contribute to the background liveliness of the picture” (ibid., p. 179).
Fig. 1, The artist at work in Russia circa 1920
Fig. 2, Marc Chagall, Le soldat blessé, 1914, watercolor, oil and gouache on carton, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Fig. 3, Marc Chagall, Le départ pour la guerre, pen and ink on paper, 1914, Collection E.W. K., Bern
Fig. 4, Marc Chagall, Le soldat boit, 1911-12, oil on canvas The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
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