Catalog Essay | September 17, 2020 | Lot 12
Known for his expressive bright imagery and use of folklore and magical motifs, Chagall has become an icon of Modern art. A successor of the Impressionist avant-garde tradition, Chagall exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Independants in 1912. Born in Belarus, and trained in Saint Petersburg, Chagall identified as a Belorusian although after his exile from the Soviet Union in 1923, he became a major figure in the Ecole de Paris.
Chagall was extremely prolific during his lifetime working in a range of media including paintings, ceramics, mosaics, stained glass and prints and producing over 10,000 works. Chagall was the eldest of nine children, born into a poor family, he was expected to help contribute. With little support from his parents Chagall took a few art classes in his native Vitebsk before eventually leaving for St. Petersburg. There he studied with Leon Bakst who introduced him to French artists like Manet, Cezanne and Matisse. At the age of 24, with the help of a modest stipend from a patron, Chagall left for Paris.
In Paris, he spent time at the Louvre, roomed in Montparnasse at an artists’ commune called La Ruche and lived frugally. At La Ruche he was in the company of Fernand Leger, Chaim Soutine, Amedeo Modigliani and Robert Delaunay. He absorbed aspects of Cubism and Fauvism into his early French works which many consider among his most creative. In 1914 he returned to Vitebsk for what he intended to be a brief visit. Trapped by the outbreak of World War I, he stayed longer and married Bella Rosenfeld, a wealthy, cultured actress. Chagall would paint the couple floating over Vitebsk in his 1914-1918 Above the Town.
After briefly joining the Bolshevik Revolution, Chagall returned to Europe when he realized they preferred abstract art and social realism. Although Chagall is an important figure in Modern art, he rejected abstraction and preferred to paint in his dreamlike, figurative style. By 1923, with his wife and now daughter, the Chagall family settled in Paris.
In Paris, Chagall met Ambroise Vollard an influential art dealer who secured many important commissions despite anti-Semitic critics. Chagall quickly gained recognition and was working as an established artist in Paris. The present work L’Ombrelle from 1939, a drawing on paper, is a finished composition with many of Chagall’s classic motifs. A woman reaches up to pull fruits from a tree. Behind her birds and a goat, and above her head a parasol. The color, originally a bright blue, pours rain over the scene. The picture is filled with joy as if the rain is a source for all of the life in the scene.
In 1941, shortly after creating this work, Chagall and his family would flee World War II to New York City where they stayed until 1948. During this time MoMA organized a retrospective of Chagall’s work, firmly securing his international recognition. Chagall returned to Paris where he continued to work until his death in 1985. He was an avant-garde artist who never embraced Modernism and whose work could not be pigeonholed into one particular style.
Today, Chagall’s works can be seen in public spaces around the world. His murals at Lincoln Center, the Four Seasons Mosaic in Chicago, stained glass windows at St. Stephen’s in Mainz, Germany and All Saints’ Church in Kent, England and the famed ceiling at the Garnier Opera House in Paris are just a few examples.