Lot 13
  • 13

MARC CHAGALL | Musique en plein air

400,000 - 600,000 EUR
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  • Marc Chagall
  • Musique en plein air
  • signed Marc Chagall (lower right)
  • watercolour, gouache and ink on paper laid down on cardboard
  • 48,4 x 60,5 cm ; 19 1/8 x 23 3/4 in.
Executed circa 1935-38.


Marcel Arland, Paris
Thence by descent to the present owner


Please contact the Impressionist and Modern Art Department for the condition report for this lot.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by the Comité Chagall.

“It’s in the watercolours he did for Vollard, Les fables, le Cirque..., and in the bouquets, the scenes and landscapes of Russia (a red rooster, a blue child, a purple violinist with green beard - one of his masterpieces), the church interiors in Palestine and the biblical images..., that his art shows itself to be the most spontaneous yet the wisest, the most delicate yet the sharpest - and without doubt the most enduring.”
Marcel Arland, Dans l’amitié de la peinture, 1980, p .173

Chagall constantly revisited certain recurring motifs, such as the violinist, the rooster, the goat and his hometown of Vitebsk, always infused with this own personal style. Music is omnipresent in all of his work. The artist created a mysterious link of movement, between painting, still art and music. Recalling his childhood in Vitebsk where the violin accompanied all of life’s major events, including births, bar mitzvahs, weddings and deaths, the character of the violinist exercises an almost iconic power over Chagall’s work and would remain at the heart of it throughout his life. A common presence in the Jewish community of Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, violinists are symbolic characters who accompany human destiny. Marcel Arland observes their importance in Chagall’s work: “It is a figure that Chagall evokes right from his earliest years of painting in Vitebsk, one that followed him to France and which, in America, took on a fierce intensity: le Moujik, the Rabbi in prayer, the old Jew, the beggar underneath Vitebsk. These and many other humble, solemn and tenacious characters come together in the solitary and communal figure of the Fiddler[...], who is at the centre of his work, the heart of his world, a figure that captivates, shatters the silence with great strikes of the bow and brings us into a frenetic dance.” (Marcel Arland, Dans l’amitié de la peinture, 1980, p .171) In this painting, the two musicians are surrounded by animals – Chagall had been fond of them since childhood. He explained this when he said: “I used cows, farm girls, roosters and the architecture of provincial Russia because they were all part of the environment that I grew up in.” The figures of the goat and the rooster are also recurrent in Chagall’s bestiary, often inspired by Lubok wood engravings. The most frequent animal, the rooster, has a multitude of meanings in Chagall’s art. Linked to a ritual sacrifice the night before the Yom Kippur festival, it evokes redemption, renewal, celebration and joy, as well as melancholy. The goat, which often accompanies travelling performers and musicians to the festivals and celebrations of Vitebsk's Jewish community, is also an emblem of the Jewish traditions of his childhood. The goat is the main character in “Chad Gadya”, the popular folk song that is sung during the Passover meal in honour of all those who have been persecuted. Chagall expressed it as “an appeal for tenderness and compassion”. However, these animals, frequently represented in human form by Chagall, suffer the same fate as humans: birth, life and death. In Musique en plein air one of the goats is carried away by a man to be sacrificed, inspired perhaps by his uncle who was a butcher. “You could say that, for him, a painting is not so much a work of art, but an outpouring of emotion. He cannot paint unless he is feeling emotional, without recounting, entrusting or chanting a moment of his life, and all of his work is ultimately just that; the story and refrain of his life. [...] the scenes and figures of Vitebsk, the town where he was born and which always remained his true homeland, came from his heart: a village, an old man on a bench in an izba, a fiddler, a wedding, a birth; his people and his race were calling him, entering him, seeking to live through him. He made them into lyrical images and found in them his most profound poetry.” (Marcel Arland, Dans l’amitié de la peinture, 1980, p .170 et 171)

This melancholy is accentuated by the grey tones of the traditional wooden houses of Shtetl in Vitebsk. Furthermore, the purple tunic of the violinist is the colour of dreams and solitude, while the green of his skin depicts a person of ill-health, divine intervention, but also joy and the family home. On the other hand, the red of the chicken and the blue of the small musician radiate light. Chagall scatters the two musicians onto the canvas in a spiralling movement in front of the suspended houses, in a colourful vision that defies the laws of gravity. In doing so he follows his own maxim: “one must use colour to make the picture sing.”