Lot 103
  • 103

Chagall, Marc

600,000 - 900,000 USD
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Sketchbook, signed ("Marc Chagall" three times and "MC" once), containing 85 pages of drawings by Chagall in pen and ink, watercolor, pencil, and charcoal (76 of the drawings are full-page and 6  are double-page), and 8 pages of autograph manuscript by Bella Chagall, being fair copies of her translations of French poetry into Yiddish.  The sketchbook compiled in New York and France, 1942–1965. Page size: 7 3/8 x 5 1/2 in.; 187 x 138 mm. Bound in gilt-decorated red cloth, patterned endpapers; binding somewhat worn.


Bella and Marc Chagall — André and Janine Hequet — a European Private Collection


Sketchbook, signed ("Marc Chagall" three times and "MC" once), containing 84 pages of drawings by Chagall in pen and ink, watercolor, pencil and charcoal, and 8 pages of Bella Chagall's translations of French poetry into Yiddish (transcribed in an unidentified hand), (7 3/8 x 5 1/2 in.; 187 x 138 mm), [New York and France, ca. 1942–1965], bound in gilt-decorated red cloth; binding somewhat worn.
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Catalogue Note

A remarkable intact sketchbook used by Marc Chagall from the 1940s to the 1960s, and including a wide variety of subjects central to his œuvre.

At the heart of this important sketchbook are eight pages of Bella Chagall's translations of French verse and song lyrics into Yiddish.  These include her translation of Raissa Maritain's poem "Marc Chagall," published in the New York Yiddish newspaper Der Tog on 6 December 1942. Another text titled "Folksongs of the French Underground" is of unknown authorship, though the Yiddish version here is by Bella. Also present is a translation of Anna Marly's "Chant des Partisans" (1943), one of the most popular songs of the French Resistance.  The Yiddish version was published 16 April 1944 — just five months before Bella's death — in the Morgen-Freiheit.  Opposite the "Chant des Partisans" is a particularly moving pen-and-ink drawing of Bella and Marc Chagall as a bridal pair. 

Bella Chagall died in upstate New York on 2 September 1944.  Before Chagall returned permanently to Europe in 1948, he visited Bella's grave on 2 September 1947.  Jackie Wullschlager, in her recent biography of the artist, writes, "[H]e made a pilgrimage to her grave ... knowing this would be the last time he would be there for the anniversary of her death.  That month, as if in compensation, he wrote of plans to publish a memorial to her in Europe, including her notebooks, his paintings of her, and writings about her by Jacques Maritain, Éluard, and Paulhan" (Chagall, p. 440).  Although Chagall's memorial volume to his wife and muse was never realized, her image and spirit were kept alive for the rest of the artist's life in numerous paintings, prints, illustrated books, and stained glass windows.  This sketchbook was among Bella's possessions at the time of her death and the grieving Chagall kept it for twenty years, filling the blank leaves surrounding the text with a virtual catalogue of his colorful and moving iconography.

The sketchbook abounds in portraits of Bella and self-portraits of Chagall. These include a very beautiful ink-and-wash portrait of Bella in a patterned dress with a bowl of fruit. There are two sensitive portrait heads in pencil, one with closed eyes, the other with open eyes surrounded by dark circles, both drawings possibly depicting Bella's final illness.  Chagall himself appears in several fine self-portraits, in one as a brightly colored satyr with palette and brushes.  In another, he appears as a drinker, seated next to a bottle labelled with his own initials.  In perhaps the most moving of the self-portraits, the artist (with a blue head) is seated at his easel, contemplating a red painting of himself and Bella.  The couple appear together in one drawing as artist and model, elsewhere as an elongated bridal pair; in yet another drawing they float in the sky with a crescent moon, a chicken, and a violin-playing donkey.

The sketchbook is equally rich in other themes that recurred throughout Chagall's long career. The artist's birthplace, Vitebsk, in the Pale of Settlement, is a constant presence here.  In one drawing a rabbi holds a Torah labelled "Vitebsk" at the scroll's edge.  In an unusual and elegant red-and-black drawing, an elongated peasant woman balances a sheaf of wheat on her head as she walks what appears to be a dog on a leash.  Peasants, the wooden huts and fences of the shtetl, cows and chickens, all make appearances.  In a revealing image, a bass player, whose instrument doubles as a bare-breasted woman, flies over the moon, while below an earthbound peasant, seen in profile, reveals the dusty wooden huts of Vitebsk lodged in his head.  Small marginal sketches throughout the collection include delightful creatures such as a walking bass fiddle with a flowing mane of hair in the shape of a violin.  Chagall's mysterious winged grandfather clock is depicted several times. Also of interest are several heads with transposed features, looking back to the artist's celebrated "Half-Past Three (The Poet)" (1911), now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The bountiful religious imagery in the sketchbook is both Jewish and Christian, with a series of portraits of King David being most notable.  In one very fine drawing, David, crowned and with his harp, and a Vitebsk fiddler in a peasant's cap flank a cluster of village huts.  In a striking ink sketch a Crucifixion rises up behind a solemn Moses, holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments. In another drawing, an angel bearing a menorah flies across the page.  

Of the drawings of circus performers, many in blue pencil, the artist has labeled two "Comedie del art.  Marc Chagall."  There are also a number of Mediterranean land- and seascapes, including harbor scenes, sailboats and a figure fishing at the water's edge. These were most likely done near the artist's home at Saint-Paul-de-Vence, in the South of France, or possibly in Israel, which he visited in order to oversee several important commissions. In fact, the few existing Chagall sketchbooks seem to be related directly specific projects (such as stained glass commissions). None has the range of iconic imagery so central to the artist's work as shown here.

Intact Chagall sketchbooks are scarce with most disbound and the drawings sold individually. The genesis of Chagall's fruitful post-war years can be found in page after page of this intimate sketchbook, a poignant testament to a celebrated artist's deep affinity for his wife and muse.

The sketchbook is accompanied by a certificate of authentication (No. 2004013) issued by the Comité Marc Chagall on 5 February 2004.