Despondent with the dominant aesthetic teachings espoused by his Russian Contemporaries, Chagall returned to France in 1923 yielding the banner of individuality in order to “rediscover the free expansion and fulfilment which were so essential to him” (Michael J. Lewis ‘Whatever Happened to Marc Chagall?' in Commentary, October 2008, pp. 36-37). Abandoning his position as Commissar of Arts for Vitebsk, he turned his back on the prevailing Suprematist school of thought led by Kasimir Malevich and uprooted himself from his mother country, to once again settle in France. While his 1910s sojourn in France was characterised by a longing for Russia, this self-imposed exile compelled Chagall to find new roots, adopting a fresh approach to colour and its atmospheric quality, in order to articulate his rediscovery of France beyond the confines of the Parisian capital. In 1926, thanks to generous contributions from the prestigious Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Chagall explored the countryside of France. In his own words, 'I threw myself at new themes I had never seen before in Vitebsk - the flowers in the south of France, the farm workers in Savoy, the well-fed animals. After the Revolution, the destitution and the hunger, I gave my appetite free reign. In all the fantastic things I saw, I could not forget the earth from which we come.' (quoted in Charles Sorlier, Marc Chagall et Ambroise Vollard, Paris, 1981, p. 24).
It was during these travels that he found himself in Chambon-sur-Lac, a nature reserve surrounding the Auvergne volcanoes. A particularly fine example of his intimate exploration of light and life in France, Le Clocher de l’église de Chambon-sur-Lac still recalls details taken from scenes of Russian village life with its distinctive towers. Chagall marries his former fascination with his mother country with a deep reflection on the typical French village, capturing the veracity of the luminous gray late-afternoon sky. Modulating over gray and earth tones in a harmonious palette that evokes the French earth, the artist takes root in this foreign country, grasping it and claiming it as his own.
Le Clocher de l’église de Chambon-sur-Lac is thus a celebration of Chagall’s exploration of his own nomadic identity; as well as a celebration of his mastery of gouache, testing the bounds of the medium with a skilful eloquence that produces a glorious ode to the French countryside.
The present work was first owned by Jean Negulesco, the movie director of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Born in Romania, Jean emigrated to America in 1927 having studied art in Vienna and Bucharest. Arriving in New York, Jean quickly moved west to find his fortune in Los Angeles. He found work as a sketch artist before moving on swiftly through a number of roles within the film industry, culminating in his appointment as a director for Warner Brothers. Jean is commemorated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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