Lot 2
  • 2

Marc Chagall

500,000 - 700,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Marc Chagall
  • Etude pour 'Le Poète à la tête renversée'
  • Signed Chagall (lower right)
  • Gouache and pen and ink on paper
  • 10 5/8 by 8 1/4 in.
  • 27 by 21 cm


Private Collection (sold: Sotheby's, London, March 30, 1988, lot 325)

Private Collection (sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 8, 2001, lot 192)

Acquired at the above sale

Catalogue Note

During his first trip to Paris, Chagall felt a strong affinity with a number of French poets, especially Blaise Cendrars and Guillaume Apollinaire.  Thinking back to his arrival in Paris in the summer of 1910, Chagall described his new approach to art with words borrowed from poetry: “like one driven by fate…I arrived in Paris.  The words rose to my mouth from my very heart.  They almost stammered me.  I stammered.  The words fought to get out, full of eagerness to shine with the light of Paris, to bejewel themselves with it.”


The present work relates closely to two paintings by Chagall, Le Poète Mazin (1910-11, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris) and the important cubist work Le Poète (1911-12, Philadelphia Museum of Art, fig. 1).  The pose of the poet in the present work is close to that of the figure in Le Poète Mazin, with the main difference being the upturned head that relates to the figure in the Philadelphia painting.  Meyer dated Le Poète Mazin to 1910, as it does seem more plausible that Chagall began with a more naturalistic reproduction of a specific poet, and developed the abstracted subject later.  The present gouache would then make sense with his depiction of a poet, with the simple displacement of the head used to describe the poet’s special view of the world.


Aleksandr Kamensky writes of the Philadelphia painting: “The poet’s body, moreover, is transparent, intangible; it is crowned by his green head, which is turned upside-down.  Here the painter is employing a symbol to signify the preeminence of imagination over reality.  That is the key to the picture; the picture is a visual analogy of the poet’s emotional state, he is totally emersed in his reverie.  It is half past three and the poet is still working.  That is how Chagall worked at La Ruche” (A. Kamensky, Chagall, The Russian Years, 1907-1922, Paris, 1988, p. 131).  The alternate title of the Philadelphia painting is Half Past Three, indicative of the time early in the morning when the artist's finished his composition.   In the present work, Chagall alludes to the pre-dawn hour by placing a hovering lamp in the background.