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Les maisonnettes rouges
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About the item

One of the very few canvases painted by Chagall during the months he spent in Berlin in 1922, Les maisonettes rouges is full of nostalgia for his recently departed Belarussian birth town of Vitebsk. The subject – the house in which he was born – is set within a vivid red landscape and dark sky that anticipates the dreamworlds that would come to define Chagall’s personal aesthetic. This red hut, with the characteristically Russian carved window frames, is a recurring feature of Chagall’s early works and is a powerful iconographic tool in his œuvre. It was the subject of a number of paintings from his time in Russia, both as the central motif, as in La maison bleue (fig. 2), and as part of a wider setting, but it took on a new significance in his work following his departure from Russia. The artist once described this house as ‘the little house near the Peskowatik road…my Father sold it as soon as he was a little better off... Looking down on this little house from my newfound “stature” I winced and asked myself, “How could I possibly have been born there? How can one breathe in such a hole?”’ (quoted in S. Compton, Marc Chagall. My Life – My Dream, Munich, 1990, p. 198). Yet despite this, the ‘little house’ was evidently an important part of the artist’s earliest memories, and repeatedly featured in his nostalgic paintings of Vitebsk, such as Au-dessus de la ville (fig. 3), and was invariably painted in vibrant tones which distinguished it from the rest of the town. When in 1933 he was asked to describe the important meetings of his life he replied in characteristically whimsical fashion, ‘When I opened my eyes for the first time in my life I met a whole world, the town, the house, which little by little became fixed in me for always. Later I met a woman’ (quoted in ibid., p. 11). The woman in question was his childhood love and first wife Bella. From the very first, images of her as the archetypal beloved, are associated with depictions that recall Vitebsk and both would become symbolic figures that recalled the early years of the artist’s experience. The prominence of the house in the present work confirms it as Chagall’s definitive and very personal symbol of family and his Russian roots. Chagall combines it with the proliferation of animals and rustic characters that were a common feature in his work of this period. In particular, there is a gouache from 1923-24 Le village that employs not only the same characters – including the figure of the artist’s grandfather sitting on the roof of the house – but also the same distorted perspective that Chagall employs to such effect in the present work.\nIt is the combination of this altered perspective with the artist’s innovative use of colour that marks out Les maisonettes rouges as such an important example of Chagall’s early work. Compton suggests that the vibrant red was inspired by the fire which ravaged Vitebsk on 24th June 1887, only two weeks before Chagall was born, but it might also have been that the artist, a once staunch communist leaving Russia as a result of his frustration with the new regime, was also nostalgic for a failed political cause. Chagall had already begun experimenting with his use of colour – as the swathes of unadulterated blue and yellow in La maison bleue suggest – and in the present work this is developed in combination with a much freer handling. This new style, which first emerged in works of the early 1920s such as Les maisonettes rouges showed a marked difference from the Cubist-inspired works of the previous decade and was quickly adopted by the artist, going on to become one of the defining elements of his very distinctive aesthetic.\nSigned Marc Chagall and dated 922 (lower right)
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medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Marc Chagall

condition

The canvas is unlined. There is an area of paint in the upper left corner which fluoresces under ultra-violet light, which appears to be reworked by the artist. Apart from some stable craquelure in the black paint, this work is in very good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although slightly fresher in the original. The reds have a slightly deeper tonality in the original. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

dimensions

52.5 by 63.5cm.

exhibition

Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Chagall, 1966, no. 3 Canberra, Australian National Gallery, 1988-90 (on loan) Ludwigshafen, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Marc Chagall: Mein Leben – Mein Traum. Berlin und Paris, 1922-1940, 1990, no. 19, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (with incorrect measurements) Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais & San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Chagall connu et inconnu, 2003, no. 76, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

literature

Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, New York, 1963, illustrated p. 325

provenance

Herbert Tannenbaum (Das Kunsthaus), Mannheim Fritz & Herta Liebhold, Mannheim & Melbourne (acquired from above on the 3rd September 1937) Herta Liebhold, Melbourne (by descent from the above) Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1988) Acquired from the above by the present owner on 11th February 1991

signedDate

Signed Marc Chagall and dated 922 (lower right)

time_period

Painted in 1922.

creator_nationality_dates

1887 - 1985


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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