Marc Chagall, Etude pour le Golgotha (Le Mont Golgotha)

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Lot 6
Etude pour Golgotha 7 1/4 x 8 1/2 in (18.4 x 21.6 cm)

Sold for US$ 125,000 inc. premium

Impressionist & Modern Art

13 Nov 2018, 17:00 EST

New York

MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Etude pour Golgotha
oil on paper
7 1/4 x 8 1/2 in (18.4 x 21.6 cm)
Executed circa 1912


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

    This work is a preliminary study for the painting Gogotha in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

    Emile Dehelly Collection, Paris (sold: Hôtel Drouot, November 10, 1933, lot 52).
    Mademoiselle Gilly, France (acquired at the above sale).
    Sale: Sotheby's, London, June 29, 1988, lot 336.
    Private Collection, Monaco (acquired at the above sale).

    Executed circa 1912, Etude pour Golgotha is one of Chagall's first depictions of Christ, and an important study for his early masterpiece Golgotha (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). This incredibly rare, early work encapsulates the dramatic shift in the artist's oeuvre when he approached his work with a unique combination of folkloric and biblical narratives with a formally daring compositional style that rivaled the Cubist compositions of his French contemporaries. As Jean-Michel Foray wrote, "No other artist in the Parisian avant-garde of the early twentieth century explicitly depicted scenes from the Torah or Genesis vis-a-vis the Cubist formal principles of fragmentation and deconstruction," Jean-Michel Foray wrote. "To put it another way, at the precise moment when the avant-garde was moving away from figuration, narrative compositions, and genre painting in favor of formalism and abstraction, Chagall reintroduced traditional themes and religious subject matter. This decision, though defining for Chagall, represented the beginning of a deep rift between the artist and the avant-garde" (J.-M. Foray, Marc Chagall (exhibition catalogue), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2003, p. 64).

    Although the subjects of much of Chagall's early oeuvre are taken from life in the Jewish community of his native Vitebsk, the artist's Paris paintings are characterized by great stylistic experimentation. Chagall left his home in Vitebsk in 1910, traveling via St. Petersburgh to Paris at the age of twenty. Within days of his arrival in Paris, Chagall visited the Salon des Indépendants where he saw the work of a panoply of contemporary French artists and discovered avant-garde movements including Cubism and Fauvism. Paintings by Léger, Derain, Picasso and Matisse were exhibited alongside the vibrant Orphist paintings of Robert Delaunay, who would later become a mentor to August Macke, Paul Klee and Chagall himself.

    Chagall soon moved into an apartment in the legendary block of studios known as La Rûche on the Rue Vaugirard in Montparnasse, a building famed for its lively bohemian atmosphere and cosmopolitan tenants. Chagall lived in the room next to Modigliani and was nearby Soutine. The poets Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars and Canudo frequently visited the house, and in this milieu of spontaneity and rich cultural exchange, Chagall began his first period of painting in Paris. Etude pour Golgotha exemplifies the artist's amalgamation of his foundational narrative painting with the newly discovered contemporary movements of Cubism and Fauvism. While exhibiting the iconography for which the artist is renowned, the present work seamlessly integrates a biblical narrative with Cubist geometricized strokes of brilliant Fauve-like color.

    Etude pour Golgotha depicts Golgotha, or Calvary, the site according to the Gospels immediately outside of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. This hill near Jerusalem derives its meaning from the Aramaic word 'gulgulta', meaning 'place of the skull'. The gospels of Matthew and Mark also translate the term to mean 'place of the skull,' and in Latin the phrase 'Calvariae Locus', from which the English word 'cavalry' is derived. According to the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Jesus Christ also was a descendant of King David, and therefore the genealogy is spiritually resonant with both Christians and Jews alike. For Chagall, the depiction of Christ and the crucifixion was not exclusively Christian iconography, as he saw Jesus as a Jewish martyr and would later interpret the crucifixion as a symbol of and metaphor for the tragedy of the Holocaust.

    Despite the present work's iconography, Chagall did not intend for his compositions to be reflective of any particular religious affiliation, despite his clear use of biblical iconography. To him, these 'biblical pictures' were an expression of his own imagination and produced for the interpretations of his audience. "Ever since early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible," Chagall once said, "It has always seemed to me, and still seems today, the greatest source of poetry of all time. Ever since then, I have searched for its reflection in life and in art. The Bible is like an echo of nature and this is the secret I have tried to convey ...To my way of thinking, these paintings do not illustrate the dream of a single people, but that of mankind...Works of art should speak for themselves" (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall, 1887-1985, Cologne, 1998, p. 207).

    Chagall returned to Biblical iconography and the crucifixion throughout his oeuvre, a focus that culminated with the creation of several commissioned stained-glass windows for churches across Europe. Chagall's choice of jewel-tone colors and his application of paint in the present work foreshadow the same luminescent quality and transparency found in his late stained-glass windows, such as those in the Reims Cathedral.
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