The oeuvre of Chagall is splendidly colorful and filled with heavenly fantasies. He devoted his life to painting the nostalgia he felt for his homeland, the joy of love and affection, and his devotion to his religion. These works all exude a sense of innocence and immaculate beauty, and even the modern art master Pablo Picasso once said: “I don’t know where he gets those images… He must have an angel in his head.” Born into a Jewish family in Russia in the late 19th century, Chagall had witnessed a series of historical disasters during his lifetime, suffered upheavals and hardships, and endured several painful departures of his loved ones. Nevertheless, he still celebrated the beauty and goodness of life through his art, defusing the brutality and savagery of reality with his poetic imaginations. In his own words: “Despite all the troubles in our world and my heart, I have never given up on man’s hope in love, or the love which I was brought up on. In life, just as on the artist’s palette, there is but a single color that gives meaning to life and art – the color of love”.
With a brush and palette in his hands, Chagall created many enchanted wonderlands, appealing to the most intimate, softest emotions of the beholder. In his prime, ever more determined to pursue his endeavor as an artist, Chagall often shared his self-reflection in the form of self-portraits. Le peintre en costume marron (Lot 1013), presented by Sotheby’s Hong Kong this autumn, is an exquisite example of the artist’s inner being.
Chagall was blessed with a long life, living for almost a century (1887-1985). He was already 88 years old when he created this painting. However, he portrayed himself as a young man dressed elegantly in a brown suit, working diligently on his canvas. At the twilight of his life, Chagall had already garnered wide global acclamations and honors, especially after the establishment of Musée Marc Chagall in Nice, France in 1973 which cemented his status in art history. In the present work, Chagall revisited the various stages of his artistic career; many of his favorite symbolic motifs are encompassed within the same vista, such as embracing lovers, a cluster of flowers and the flying golden bull, which recur in his paintings from different periods.
In Le peintre en costume marron, the painter holds his hand up to draw the viewer’s attention to the mini-canvas on the left, where a couple leans towards each other, representing the blissful life he had with his second wife Vava (Valentina Brodsky) after they moved to Southern France. On the upper section of the canvas, a figure resembling the painter is floating upside-down in midair alongside a bride dressed in white – representing the love of Chagall’s life and his first wife Bella Rosenfeld. Despite her premature death, she lived on in many of Chagall’s pieces. Here, in this painting, she fully embodies Chagall’s affectionate memory of her: “I only had to open my bedroom window, and blue air, love, and flowers entered with her. Dressed in all black or white, she has been flying over my canvases guiding my art.” Throughout his career, Chagall has been accompanied by two women of his life, first Bella, and then Vava. They nurtured and shaped the joyful, romantic and dreamlike world he reveled in. In his self-portrait Le peintre en costume marron, with a heart filled with gratitude, Chagall pays homage to his loves, Bella and Vava.
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