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Marc Chagall – La Thora

Sold for 4.800.000 SEK at Uppsala Auktionskammares evening sale ”The Neuman Collection”, 7 Dec 2016.

1000. Marc Chagall (1887‑1985). ”La Thora”.
Signed Marc Chagall. Gouache, pastel, brush and ink on paper, 58 x 79 cm.

Born into a poor Hasidic family near Vitebsk, in the Western part of Russia, Marc Chagall was the eldest of nine children. It was the images and memories from these early Russian years that would repeatedly be used in his art when he left his hometown and moved to Paris. The Russo-Jewish culture was an emotional and intellectual source that populated his memories, and fueled his imagination with strong experiences from his childhood.

Chagall’s works are often autobiographical and mirror the artist’s views on life. Throughout Chagall’s oeuvre, the figures are laden with significance. The animals of Chagall’s dream worlds – donkeys, goats and cockerels – not only recall the peasant life in his hometown but often seem emblematic of the artist himself.
The artist’s pre-occupation with Jewish themes and religious family life resulted in many masterpieces. In La Thora, painted in 1970, Chagall has placed the Torah next to the angel as the centrepiece. The small houses and animals are a reminder of his past and his provincial upbringing in Vitebsk. The Jewish man, perhaps depicting his father, whose posture gives the picture a turning motion, is also central in the composition. The angel, with the face of Bella Rosenfeld, Chagall’s beloved first wife. Chagall’s Russian and Jewish heritages are at the very core of his work.

Figure 1. La chute de l’Ange, 1923-47.

Figure 1. La chute de l’Ange, 1923-47.
Chagall, Marc (1887-1985):  La chute de l’ange Allegorie representant la perte de l’ange de son statut divin. 20th cent.
Basel, Kunstmuseum, peinture © 2016. Photo Josse / SCALA, Florence 

The painting in Figure 1, La chute de l’Ange (Private Collection, on deposition at Kunstmuseum Basel), on which he started working in 1923 and finished in 1947, gives an impression of being an “Allegory of an Age of Terror”, as Chagall’s biographer Franz Meyer described it. The same main features as in La Thora are seen; the angel and the Jew with the Torah. However this is a dramatic and dark post-war painting with its fiercely red falling angel. La Thora on the other hand is a more joyful depiction from a time when Europe was more at peace. Chagall seems nevertheless to still experience the world as being somewhat upside down.

Being a master of handling colours he uses a vivid palette that attracts and captures the viewer’s attention. In his later years living in the Côte d’Azur his palette had moved towards brighter colours. The blue for instance in La Thora with its Mediterranean connotation is a vital colour in Chagall’s oeuvre giving the painting a mythic, dreamlike quality.

The same impression of the objects being airborne is apparent in the two paintings. The airborne feature is common in Chagall’s oeuvre seen as, for instance, floating couples, angels, and bouquets of flowers. This also reminds the viewer how the circus, for Chagall and other artists, became a central metaphor and a suggestive kaleidoscope of forms and colours. Where a repeal of the law of gravity becomes in a sense a metaphysical circus, the air is the element where Chagall is comfortable.

Figure 2. Solitude, 1933.

Figure 2. Solitude, 1933.
Chagall, Marc (1887-1985):  Solitudine, 1933. Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art.  © 2016.

Photo SCALA, Florence 

The Torah, Rabbi and Jewish men often appear in the spectra of Chagall’s motifs. The Torah, in the form of a scroll, is the Jewish symbol for the “instruction” and in a way guiding the Jewish people through their culture and practice. A Jew holding the Torah can be seen for example in Figure 2, the painting Solitude of 1933 (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel). Although the man expresses loneliness he clings to the Torah, knowing that the language and texts of the Jewish people will continue to unite them.

Chagall enjoyed a growing success and by the time he was painting La Thora he was living in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the South of France with his second wife, Valentina Brodsky, still producing his reveries nostalgic of his youth. Even in his later years he is inventive and creative, while often using the same elements of pictures, forms and colours as he already used in the mid 1920’s. “Truly my pictures are my biography. I paint with the brush instead of with my mouth. In my paintings there is all the poverty of my childhood” (Sidney Alexander, Marc Chagall – A biography, 1978, p. 469).

Mr. Magnus Bexhed
+46 705 – 22 12 04

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