MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985) Autour de 'La Révolution 1937' (Painted between 1945 - 1950)

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Lot 12AR
Autour de 'La Révolution 1937'
£ 300,000 - 500,000
US$ 390,000 - 650,000

Lot Details
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Autour de 'La Révolution 1937'
signed 'Chagall' (lower right)
oil on canvas laid down on board
31.8 x 40cm (12 1/2 x 15 3/4in).
Painted between 1945 - 1950


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

    Contini Galleria D'Arte, Venice.
    Private collection, Europe (acquired from the above).

    Autour de 'La Révolution 1937' depicts a scene to which Marc Chagall returned time and time again throughout his life, one that encapsulated many of the themes and motifs so beloved of the artist. Chagall first depicted the Russian Revolution of 1917 in a series of oil paintings begun in 1937, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the revolution. One such piece, that would eventually be divided into three separate works entitled Résistance, Résurrection and Libération, was ambitious in scale and conception and was, in many ways, Chagall's answer to his friend Pablo Picasso's masterpiece of the same year, Guernica. Chagall had come of age during the October Revolution, returning to Vitebsk following his first trip to France in 1914, and his career was forged in the aftermath of so much political upheaval. He was for some years involved with the leading figures of the Supremacist movement, Malevitch and Lissitzky, as they were teaching together at The People's Art School in Vitebsk, but soon Chagall returned to France indefinitely. His Russian identity remained a central part of his artistic vision, however, as evinced most clearly in the Revolution scenes.

    Throughout the Révolution series, the construction of these works is largely the same: to the left of the composition is a throng of revolutionaries, pressing forward with raised arms and the red banners of the Bolsheviks. Across the centre of the piece, comparatively isolated, are the figures of a seated rabbi, contemplating the Torah, and Lenin. Lenin is somewhat comically represented in the midst of a hand-stand, addressing the revolutionaries and pointing towards the right-hand side of the scene. In this far corner, Chagall depicts a familiar scene full of elements one would find throughout his work: musicians, farm animals, the rooftops of his home village and, of course, the lovers. In the very centre of the right-hand side is a large sun, radiating warmth and life. Chagall seems to say that after the violence of conflict must come the joy and imagination of freedom and self-expression, or as Franz Meyer described it, 'to interpret the picture, one must start from the contrast between the left and right halves. The political revolution, the actual uprising on the left is balanced on the right by the artistic-human revolution proclaimed by Chagall. Its manifestations are not guns and slogans, but music and love' (F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, New York, 1963, p. 414).

    Chagall would return again to the theme of the Revolution in 1945, in the wake of the Second World War. It was in this context that the present work, Autour de 'La Révolution 1937', was created. Chagall had endured the war years in New York – being a Russian Jew, Chagall had been devastated during his exile by what he heard from friends in Europe, and longed to return to France but did not know if this would ever be possible. Painted between 1945 and 1950, the present work takes the key figures present in his earlier iterations and changes them into something markedly more joyous and apolitical. The crowd of revolutionaries with banners is still present to the right of the composition, yet they celebrate rather than throng. In the background we see a village with rooftops, and a family watching the scene, looking towards the central protagonists who are no longer the recognisable figures of the rabbi and Lenin. The rabbi is now an old musician, resting his violin against his leg, and Lenin has transformed into Chagall's beloved acrobat.

    The decision to replace the revolutionary political figure with an acrobat is telling: this is a celebratory image, with the artist choosing to focus almost solely on the 'music and love' noted by Meyer. This is less a depiction of the October Revolution, and more the scene of a village fete. Following the Second World War, Chagall had made a conscious decision to look towards the beauty and love he observed in the world, and away from the terrible violence that had befallen so many of his contemporaries during the conflict. The artist's positive expression in the face of great suffering sets Chagall apart from many of his contemporaries, who used art to process the horrors of the previous decade. This decisive optimism is reflected in the present work, where the choice of motifs and characters reflects an evident joy: '[Chagall's] most characteristic work possesses a joie de vivre, a playful wit and sense of the fantastical rarely found in the art of any period' (M. Bohm-Duchen, Chagall, London, 1998, p. 4).

    Since his early visits to the Cirque d'hiver alongside his dealer Ambroise Vollard, Chagall had been entranced by the spectacle of the circus. The acrobats, horse-back riders and clowns began to take a prominent position within his visual lexicon, representing the tragedy and joy he observed in humanity. The sweeping crescents depicting the crowds at the circus is echoed in the swelling crowd of revolutionaries. The same visual construct, depicting two very different emotions: celebration and revolt. In Autour de 'La Révolution 1937' we see Chagall employing the construction of his celebrated Revolution series, but here, at the very moment at which Europe emerged from the bloody conflict, he fills the scene with characters from a very different world. Music, dance and love were the vehicles through which peace and prosperity could be achieved, as opposed to faith and thought. Chagall continued to contemplate his own work throughout his career, and here he demonstrates with great visual flair and clarity his confidence in the joys of life, and his hope in mankind.
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