Lot 37
  • 37

Marc Chagall

Estimate
1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Marc Chagall
  • Le Pont-Neuf
  • Signed Chagall Marc and dated 1953. (lower right); signed Marc Chagall (on the stretcher)
  • Oil on canvas

Provenance

Galerie Maeght, Paris

Galerie Tamenaga, Paris

Sale: Christie’s, New York, November 7, 2001, lot 281

Private Collection, New England (acquired at the above sale)

Private Collection (acquired from the above)

Acquired from the above

Exhibited

Paris, Galerie Maeght, Paris. Marc Chagall, 1954, no. 29

New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Marc Chagall, 2000-01, no. 7, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Literature

Galerie Maeght, ed., “Paris de Marc Chagall” in Derrière le Miroir, 1954, no. 29, listed n.p.

Franz Meyer, “Chagall Pariser zyklus” in Jahrbuch der Hamburger Kunstsammlungen, Hamburg, 1960, p. 96

Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, New York, 1963, no. 901, illustrated n.p.

Jacob Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall, A Retrospective, New York, 1995, illustrated in color p. 261

Jacob Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall 1887-1985, Cologne, 1998, illustrated in color p. 264

Monica Bohm-Duchen, Chagall, London, 1998, p. 276

Catalogue Note

Le Pont-Neuf is a deeply evocative rendering of Paris, swathed in hues of emerald-green and indigo. The Chagallian blue twilight is replete with motifs from the artist’s personal cosmos of dream-like characters: a floating recumbent nude, a cast of otherworldly animals, a self-portrait of the artist hovering high above the city, and the magical figure of an angel picked out by luminous white robes and a posy of yellow flowers. The Pont-Neuf itself straddles the central area of the composition, while the angular Paris skyline along the banks of the Seine emerges in the far background. The bridge is partially obscured at the left by a representation of the artist’s easel, and at the right by the sweeping gown of the angel. A large, flying, anthropomorphized cow dominates the foreground, carrying the reclining figures of a nude and small child while gazing directly out of the canvas. 
Such creatures inhabit the celestial sphere of Chagall’s symbolist universe. With their size and extraordinary, vivid colors, the artist gives prominence to these pillars of his fantasy world, which allows only fragments of the urban landscape into view. Beyond the Pont-Neuf, the distant city is distinguished only by two dark, sharp steeples which soar vertically from the curvilinear horizon. The artist used the same aerial aspect in depictions of his native Vitebsk, crafting similar visions of ethereal cattle drifting over the lost rural idyll of his birthplace. Filled with yearning and tenderness, the swirling inhabitants of the skies seem to represent the dream-like memories of his beloved home and the strength of feeling it inspired in him. The shtetl-esque buildings and rural character of Vitebsk served as a continual source of inspiration for Chagall, who referred to it as “the soil that nourished the roots of my art” (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall: 1887-1985, New York, 1998, p. 19). 

Upon moving to New York in 1941 as a refugee from the volatile political environment of Europe, the artist felt alienated by the hostile landscape he had left behind. The death of his beloved wife Bella in 1944 would also affect Chagall very deeply: the artist turned his unfinished canvases to the walls of his New York studio and did not paint for the year following her passing. While in exile, The Museum of Modern Art, New York held a retrospective for the artist in 1946. However, it was only after his return to France in 1947, and with his growing sympathies for the South, that Chagall seemed to rediscover the joy of color as he has once known it: “As I got nearer to the Côte d’Azur, I experienced a feeling of regeneration, something I hadn’t felt since childhood. The smell of flowers, a sort of new energy poured through me…. Near to Nice already, I felt that numerous artists had come here, that it was a place where it was possible to establish oneself, to set oneself up. In such a town, you could write music, poetry, paint pictures…. It was here I stayed. Perhaps I am feeling the years, but anyway this place has become to me like my hometown Vitebsk. As if I was rejuvenated, and that I was waiting for something. And this flower-filled world colored my new life” (quoted in Marc Chagall. Rétrospective 1908-1985 (exhibition catalogue), Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 2015, p. 48, translated from the French).

To the upper left of the canvas, the artist at his easel occupies the mythological realm between earth and sky; he is an arbiter of this oneiric world which surpasses the mundanity of terrestrial life, a conduit for the enchantment and revelry to be found in the au-delà. With his head conspicuously upturned, Chagall seems to draw attention to the transversal role of the artist in making it possible to convey the substance of dreams with his poised brush. The journalist Alexander Liberman, who visited Chagall in the late 1950s, described the complexity and intimacy of Chagall's paintings: “Like a human being, a Chagall painting reveals its rich complexity only if one has lived with it and in it, in the way the artist has during its creation. One must look at his paintings closely to experience their full power. After the impact of the overall effect, there is the joy of the close-up discovery. In this intimate scrutiny, the slightest variation takes on immense importance. We cannot concentrate for a long time; our senses tire quickly and we need, after moments of intense stimulation, periods of rest. Chagall understands this visual secret better than most painters; he draws our interest into a corner where minute details hold it, and when we tire of that, we rest, floating in a space of color, until the eye lands on a new small island of quivering life” (A. Liberman, "The Artist in His Studio," 1958, reprinted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 337). 

Apollinaire once described the “supernatural” features of the Chagallian dreamscape, which seems always to be peppered with symbols memorializing love, loss and life. As Susan Compton writes, “his meetings on canvas were not of chance objects” (S. Compton, Marc Chagall, My Life­ – My Dream, Munich, 1990, p. 34). The artist’s unique assemblage of images in the present work is a profoundly personal one, celebrating his encounter with a city and a country which had once again become a source of joy and inspiration.

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