Artist Spotlight: Marc Chagall

November 8, 2018

Marc Chagall is one of the few artists to have been consistently lauded by his peers. Even Picasso, Chagall’s rival, routinely praised his marvelous treatment of light and dubbed the painter a master colorist. While Chagall was quick to “absorb” the various trends of modernism throughout the twentieth century, he never yielded to pressures to conform. Despite his stylistic forays, the artist clung to traditional, representational figures. Chagall has been credited with restoring “allegory and narrative” to European art, elements that, of course, “modern artists” rejected. Noting this provincial adherence is not to say that his works were simple, in fact quite the opposite. Many scholars have ventured to decode Chagall’s network of signs and symbols, but have turned up empty handed. As the director of the Marc Chagall Museum in Nice said, “there’s no consensus on what [Chagall’s codes] mean. We cannot interpret them because they are simply part of his world, like figures from a dream.”  It’s as though Chagall’s vocabulary, while generally consistent, contains the sort of metaphors that could only make sense in the blissful, blurry sliver of time when one begins to fall into a deep sleep.

Marc Chagall, La Fête à Saint-Paul, 1980-82
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

In 1948, Chagall returned to France from the United States and settled on the Côte d’Azur, where he would remain until his death in 1985. Living mere miles away from both Picasso and Matisse, Chagall entered into a phase in his career of intense focus and meditation. The works that Chagall produced later in life, such as La Fête à Saint-Paul (1980-1982), take on an air of melancholy that’s not present in his pre-war pieces. Many connect this shifting tone with the death of Chagall’s first wife, Bella Rosenfeld, in 1944. While he continued depicting many of his signature figures, such as floating lovers and brightly colored livestock, his forms became increasingly lyrical and abstract. This caused many critics to discount the aging artist as “clumsy” and overly sentimental. Nevertheless, Chagall continued to produce hundreds of works and was commissioned for several major French and American public art projects. Amongst these was the renovation of the Paris Opera, for which Chagall was selected to repaint the ceiling in 1963. Over the course of the year-long effort, Chagall was subjected to an onslaught of negative press that disparaged his Russian-Jewish origin and condemned his intrusion on France’s national artistic legacy. Upon the ceiling’s unveiling however, “even [his] bitterest opponents… seemed to fall silent.” Chagall’s masterpiece was “unanimously” declared by the press to be a treasure for the French people. One journalist reported that Chagall’s “sublime images,” not only at the Paris Opera, but throughout his oeuvre, “[ranked] among the finest poetry of [their] time,” and the esteem felt for the artist has continued long after his death.

Baal-Teshuva, Jacob. Marc Chagall, Taschen (1998, 2008)
Harriss, Joseph A. “The Elusive Marc Chagall.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Dec. 2003,


Lot 32
Marc Chagall
La Fête à Saint-Paul
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right edge of canvas
Together with copy of original invoice from O’Hara Gallery dated January 16, 2001, and certificate of authenticity from the Comité Marc Chagall
Canvas: 13.125″ x 7.5″; Frame: 20.875″ x 15.375″; (Canvas: 33 x 19 cm)
Provenance  O’Hara Gallery, New York, New York

November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

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