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Marc Chagall (Russia/France 1887‑1985)

”Le Loup devenu berger”

Hammered at SEK 2.000.000 at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 16-18 June 2020

Lot 794. Marc Chagall (Russia/France 1887‑1985) ”Le Loup devenu berger” – Les Fables de la Fontaine. Signed Chagall lower right. Gouache on paper, 50.5 x 41.5 cm.

Executed ca. 1927.

The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Comité Marc Chagall. A photocertificate of authenticity issued by Comité Marc Chagall is included with this lot.


2.000.000 – 3.000.000 SEK
€ 189.000 – 283.000


Kunsthandel E.J. van Wisselingh & Co, Amsterdam, no. 7675.
The collection of Dr. Sydney Kobrinsky (1909-1970), Winnipeg.
A Swedish Private Collection, acquired by the present owner’s father.


Probably Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, Galerie Le Centaure, Brussels and Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Berlin, ”La Fontaine par Chagall”, 1930.
Musée d’Art Moderne de Céret, Céret, ”Marc Chagall – Les Fables de Fontaine”, 28 October 1995‑8 January 1996.
Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, ”Marc Chagall – Les Fables de Fontaine”, 13 January-25 March 1996.


Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, 1961, no. 434 (illustrated).
Marc Chagall, Les Fables de la Fontaine, 1995, illustrated p. 59.

In context

Marc Chagall’s enchanting illustration for Les Fables de la Fontaine: Le Loup devenu berger

“A Wolf who found in cautious flocks
His tithes beginning to be few,
Though that he’d play the part of Fox,
A character at least quite new.
A Shepherd’s hat and coat he took,
And from a branch he made a hook,
Nor did the pastoral pipe forget.
To carry out his schemes he set,
He would have liked to write upon his hat,
’I am Guillot, Shepherd of these sheep!’”

From “Le Loup devenu berger” (”The Wolf turned shepherd”) – Les Fables by Jean de la Fontaine (translated by Walter Thornbury in 1886).

Shortly after leaving Russia for France in 1926, Marc Chagall was commissioned by the art dealer and art publisher Ambroise Vollard to illustrate Jean de La Fontaine’s famous Les Fables. This was a huge project, including over one hundred works, and Vollard searched for ”an artist gifted with a creative and fertile imagination and an eye for colour” (Ambroise Vollard, De la Fontaine à Chagall’, L’intransigeant, 8 January 1929). Chagall’s return to Paris coincided well with the commission and his unrestrained way of painting and imaginative mind caught the attention of Vollard. A few years prior to his illustrations for the Fables, Chagall had exhibited his works in Paris with the help of Pierre Matisse, who arranged a solo exhibition for him at the Galerie Barbazanges-Hodebert. Despite the rising interest and recognition for his works in France, Chagall felt divided between his Russian heritage and present life. The possibility for him to be associated with one of the greatest French writers of the 17th century encouraged him to fully commit to Vollard’s idea of the illustrations. Jean de la Fontaine was a prestigious name and an iconic symbol for French literature, provoking many negative opinions concerning Vollard’s decision to commission the Russian-born artist Marc Chagall. Many questioned why a Russian should be chosen to interpret the beloved French literature, forcing Vollard to defend his choice in an article in L’Intransigéant: ”’Why Chagall?” my answer is: ”Simply because his aesthetic seems to me in a certain sense akin to La Fontaine’s, at once sound and delicate, realistic and fantastic” (Fred Meyer, Marc Chagall, Life and Work, 1963, New York, p. 348). The criticism aside, Chagall boldly undertook the mission and executed a total of 120 gouaches on this theme. Beginning in March 1926, Chagall worked on the project for 19 months and the final result presented vivid compositions full of life.

The present work “Le Loup devenu berger” tells the story about a wolf disguising himself in the dress of a shepherd to be able to approach the flock of sheep. When he got close to the sheep, he found the shepherd sleeping. The wolf resolved to imitate the voice of the shepherd, however his howling woke the shepherd up and the wolf got killed. Marc Chagall’s illustration to this fairy tale bursts with colour and excitement. The wolf, dressed up in a red coat, is watching the sleeping shepherd and the flock of sheep on the hill. His mouth watering in desire to complete his mission, the wolf is caught in the moment just before he enters the flock of sheep. Chagall used expressive colours to create his illustration for Les Fables, such as the joyful splash of purple dressing the shepherd and flowers on the hill and the wolf’s bright red tongue.

The etchings derived from the series of gouaches were completed in 1930 and finally published in 1952. Contrary to the first negative response to Vollard’s project, art critics were thrilled when they saw Chagall’s enchanting illustrations for Les Fables de la Fontaine. Among them, Jacques Guenne wrote: ”In this series of gouaches, none of which resembles another in colour or inspiration, we search in vain for what to admire the most; this splendid flow of colours, where furious reds blend into opaque blacks, acid greens, opulent yellows, radiant mauves; the extraordinary alchemy which is discernible from even the most superficial viewing of these images; or the fabulous creation and the poignant tenderness of this mind. Perhaps above all, it reveals the miracle that makes Chagall’s use of colour the divine grace of his inspiration” (Jacques Guenne, L’Art vivant, 15 December 1927).

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 fuelled 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 also often seem emblematic of the artist himself. The present work gives an opportunity to acquire a work by Chagall never before offered at auction.

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