Lot 46
  • 46

Marc Chagall

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Marc Chagall
  • Le Cirque or Les deux grands visages vert et bleu au cirque
  • signed Marc Chagall (lower left)
  • gouache, pastel and black crayon on paper
  • 58.2 by 44.9cm.
  • 22 7/8 by 17 5/8 in.


O’Hana Gallery, London

Private Collection, USA

Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London (acquired from the above in 1972)

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1972


London, O’Hana Gallery, Summer Exhibition. French Paintings and Sculpture of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1964, no. 11 (as dating from 1938)

Catalogue Note

Le cirque is a bold and joyful example of the creative energy and sense of theatre which Chagall never ceased to find in the subject of the circus. The artist developed his fascination with the circus during his formative years in Vitebsk, and later in Paris, where he frequently attended performances in the company of Ambroise Vollard. The theme was of great significance to him as a poetic, visionary experience – a transcendental parallel to real life which indulged his imagination and propensity towards pure, lyrical escapism: ‘it is a magic word, circus, a timeless dancing game where tears and smiles, the play of arms and legs take the form of a great art’ (M. Chagall quoted in Le Cirque (exhibition catalogue), Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1981, n.p.). This most poignant of themes was to recur often throughout Chagall’s œuvre.


The present work is a vivid phantasmagoria, a diverse pictorial scheme comprised of many different episodes in the circus performance that occupy the entire composition – the large central figure of a horse rider is surrounded by a trapeze artist, musicians and a clown. The audience is scattered in the background, arranged in semi-circular rows behind the performers. All of these numerous figures – both human and animal – as well as Chagall’s characteristic strong, vibrant palette, animate the composition, creating a palpable sense of energy, movement and excitement of the live performance. Lionello Venturi has alluded to the highly emotive quality with which Chagall imbues the circus theme: ‘Chagall’s images of circus people [...] are at once burlesque and tender. Their perspective of sentiment, their fantastic forms, suggest that the painter is amusing himself in a freer mood than usual; and the result is eloquent of the unmistakable purity flowing from Chagall’s heart. These circus scenes are mature realisations of earlier dreams’ (L. Venturi, Marc Chagall, New York, 1945, p. 39).


For Chagall, the temporary quality of the circus and its combination of joy and drama represented a symbol of life itself. He identified with the emotions played out in a circus performance, and the magic of the circus, his artistic vision and life all merged into a single world of fantasy. The artist explained his fascination with this theme: ‘These clowns, bareback riders and acrobats have made themselves at home in my visions. Why? Why am I so touched by their make-up and their grimaces? With them I can move toward new horizons. Lured by their colors and make-up, I dream of painting new psychic distortions’ (quoted in Jacob Baal-Teshuva (ed.), Chagall: A Retrospective, 1995, p. 196).