- Marc Chagall
- signed Marc Chagall (lower left); signed Marc Chagall on the reverse and signed Chagall on the stretcher
- oil on canvas
- 197 by 108cm.
- 77 1/2 by 42 1/2 in.
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Hommage à Marc Chagall, 1969-70, no. 172, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1962-63 and with incorrect measurements)
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Marc Chagall. Rétrospective de l'œuvre peint, 1984, no. 59, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1962-63 and with incorrect measurements)
London, Royal Academy of Arts & Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Chagall, 1985, no. 104, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1962-63 and with incorrect measurements)
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Marc Chagall, 1991, no. 88, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1962 and with incorrect measurements)
François Le Targat, Marc Chagall, New York, 1985, no. 97, illustrated in colour (as dating from 1962-63 and with incorrect measurements)
Werner Haftmann, Marc Chagall, New York, 1998, mentioned p. 142
In this stunning and monumental painting, Chagall combined some of the most iconic imagery of his mature art, merging a Biblical subject with his characteristic iconography. The composition is dominated by the figures of King David and Bathsheba, and is inspired by the story recounted in the Old Testament: while walking along the roof of his palace, King David saw a beautiful young woman bathing and was instantly captivated by this scene. He soon found out that Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, symbolised in this image by her appearance as a bride. Smitten by the beautiful bather, David had her husband killed in battle, married Bathsheba, with whom he had a son who would later become King Solomon.
The story of David's seduction of Bathsheba has inspired many artists throughout the centuries, from Rapheal, Rembrandt and Rubens (fig. 1), to modern painters including Cézanne (fig. 2). Lucas Cranach the Elder also painted this motif, which in turn inspired a series of prints by Picasso. However, Chagall's approach to this theme is radically different from those of his predecessors. While most artists chose to depict the scene of the nude Bathsheba bathing, either by herself or with King David witnessing her bathing ritual, Chagall offers here a less literal interpretation of the story, placing the two figures in a dream-like setting. Rather than depicting the moment when David first sees his future wife, Chagall has painted David courting Bathsheba, using the story as an allegory of love. The figures are surrounded by an array of the artist's favourite imagery, including views of Paris, a bouquet of flowers and angels in the sky, and the whole scene is illuminated by Chagall's characteristic blue palette.
Bethsabée and its companion painting, David (lot 13), are among those commissioned directly from Chagall for the dining room of a family home. Susan Compton has described the present work: 'As a pair to David, Chagall painted Bathsheba, once again taking a story from the history of the Jews, told in the eleventh chapter of the second book of Samuel. He has not illustrated the story in detail, but has simply conveyed the great love that the King had for this beautiful woman. Although David first saw Bathsheba bathing, Chagall has given a modern twist to the story: the couple are seen in front of that city of romance, Paris. The Place de la Concorde is bathed in a blue light, the sun just begins to rise over the buildings. This is a restrained and poetic picture of love, the King tenderly holding Bathsheba who is dressed as a bride, contemplating her married state; in the foreground a war-like eagle symbolises the fate prepared for her husband by her lover (he was sent to the forefront of a battle to be killed by the enemy). But that is only an unobtrusive shadow in this altogether lyrical representation' (S. Compton in Chagall (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 231).
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Chagall often returned to Biblical subjects, working on large public commissions as well as on smaller scale paintings and works on paper. In 1962 he completed a series of stained glass windows for the Metz Cathedral in Jerusalem, depicting scenes from the Old Testament. In the following decade, his cycle of large panels titled Le Message Biblique was installed in the Musée National Marc Chagall in Nice, inaugurated in 1973. In choosing Biblical themes, the artist was not interested in a literal visualisation of the stories, as much as in their lyrical potential. As Chagall himself commented: 'Ever since my earliest childhood I have been captivated by the Bible. I have always thought, and still think, that it is the greatest source of poetry of all time. Since childhood, then, I have sought this reflection in life and in art. The Bible is like an echo of nature and it is this secret that I have endeavoured to transmit' (M. Chagall, quoted in François Le Targat, op. cit., p. 16). Indeed, in the present work the artist used the story of David's love for Bathsheba as a 'source of poetry', and combined it with his characteristic imagery into a highly romantic composition.
Fig. 1, Peter Paul Rubens, Bathsheba at the Fountain, circa 1635, oil on panel, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
Fig. 2, Paul Cézanne, Bethsabée, 1885-90, oil on canvas, Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence
Fig. 3, Dining room showing David, a companion piece to the present work, and other works by Marc Chagall commissioned directly from the artist by the family of the present owners