Lot 37
  • 37

Marc Chagall

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Marc Chagall
  • Juif à la Thora
  • With the estate stamp Marc Chagall (lower right)
  • Oil, tempera, and colored inks on canvas
  • 36 1/4 by 28 3/4 in.
  • 92 by 73.2 cm
  • Painted circa 1968-1976.


Estate of the artist (and sold: Galerie Kornfeld, Bern, June 20, 2014, lot 23)
Private collection, Europe


Augsburg, Glaspalast, Marc Chagall : Poesie, Fabeln, Impressionen, 2004, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue p. 61
Fécamps, Palais Bénédictine, Marc Chagall : le pays de mon âme, 2004, illustrated in color in the exhibition catalogue p. 33
Avranches, Le Scriptorial, Chagall en terre promise, 2008
Seoul, Seoul Arts Center’s Hangaram Art Museum, 2016


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes, Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work is in perfect condition. The canvas is well stretched. There is no instability to the paint layer. The painting is not dirty. The work has been varnished, possibly not by the artist, but it looks well nonetheless. There are no paint losses or restorations. The painting should be hung in its current state.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1968-78, Marc Chagall’s Juif à la Thora is a magnificent homage to his Jewish heritage and his upbringing in the traditional world of Vitebsk. It derives from a drawing which Chagall executed in the aftermath of the Second World War in 1947 and used as the frontispiece of his friend Joseph Opatoshu’s book, The Last Revolt, The Story of Rabbi Akiba, 1948 (see fig 1)[1]. The drawing was exhibited at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt in 2004  in the exhibition Chagall und Deutschland, titled Der letzte Widerstand, or The Last Stand. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the story of one of the great Jewish Rabbis and martyrs, Rabbi Akiva, was a subject that would have resonated deeply with both Chagall and Opatoshu. Opatoshu, a Polish author and one of Chagall’s closest friends, maintained a lifelong correspondence with the artist in Yiddish, and it was he who sent Chagall the Bible which Chagall would use to make his Biblical illustrations throughout the years.[2]

Compositionally, the 1947 drawing and Juif à la Thora, which Chagall begun in 1968,  are almost identical, with the exception that in the drawing the man holds a Shofar in his left hand, whereas in the painting both hands firmly encircle the Torah scroll in its deep red mantle. Also, in the drawing, the Ten Commandments at the top of the Ark are flanked by rampant lions, whereas in the painting the tablets are upheld by Putti, a reference perhaps to the imposing synagogue of the Vilna Gaon in Vilna, Lithuania, which was painted by Chagall in 1935 and which was destroyed during the Second World War.[3] In both works a young Jewish man, wearing Tefillin and wrapped in a long Tallit, holds a Torah in a loving embrace as he floats above the village below. To the right a fully rendered open Ark reveals additional Torah scrolls and prayer books, lit from within by a golden glow. The figure exudes power and strength – a potent symbol of survival and renewal in spite of all adversity. At the lower left of the composition a crowd of villagers look up towards the central figure in joyous celebration.

Chagall explored the subject of the Jew with Torah in important gouaches, such as Villager holding the Torah, 1928, (on loan to the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, Paris) and Rabbi with Torah, 1930 (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam). His most celebrated oil of the subject, Solitude, 1933 is in the permanent collection of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In Solitude, a man, seated beside a white cow, holds a Torah clad in a red mantle, as threatening clouds gather overhead. Following the cataclysmic war years, Chagall was once again able to envision the transcendent Jew rising above the tragedy of the Holocaust, a survivor who holds tight to his traditions and his faith.     

Sotheby’s is honored to present this important work by Chagall. The painting remained in the collection of the artist’s family for almost 30 years following the artist’s passing in 1985. More than any other artist, Chagall was able to express the Jewish experience throughout the tumultuous years of the 20th Century: “Chagall, as a Jewish artist, was able to encapsulate a lost world in his expressive and instantly recognizable images.…. He offered a narrative art that met the psychological needs of the moment and gave pleasure and consolation as could no other artist.”[4]

“The soil that nourished the roots of my art was Vitebsk [---]my paintings are my memories” Marc Chagall

[1] See Joseph Opatoshu’s, The Last Revolt, The Story of Rabbi Akiba, published in Hebrew, New York, Cyco Bicher Farlach, 1948; published in English by the Jewish Publications Society of America in 1952

[2] See Benjamin Harshav, Marc Chagall and His Times, Stanford, 2004, p. 319

[3] See The Vilna Synagogue, 1935, Private Collection, exhibited, The Jewish Museum, New York, Chagall, Love, War, and Exile, 2014

[4]Susan Tamarkin Goodman, Chagall, Love, War and Exile, The Jewish Museum, New York, 2013, p. 75