Marc Chagall (Russian/French, 1887-1985) Le Cirque The portfolio, comprising the complete set of 38 lithographs (23 in colours and 15 in black), 1957, on Arches wove paper, in- and hors-texte, with title page and justification, text in French, signed in pencil on the justification, copy number 197 of 250, published by Tériade Editeur, Paris, the full sheets, loose (as issued), the colours very fresh and vibrant, in very good condition, within original paper wrapper with title and cream cloth-covered portfolio with gilt lettering on the spine and matching slipcaseOverall 451 x 343mm.
Join the circus

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 51, Summer 2017

Page 8

Marc Chagall's art was inspired as much by the crowd-pleasing antics of the acrobats as by the esoteric world of dreams. Lucia Tro Santafe is captivated

With its clowns, trapezes, sword-swallowers and performing elephants, the circus has inspired artists across the centuries. It's little wonder. From Watteau via Seurat to Picasso and Matisse, the sheer visual spectacle of this form of mass entertainment has obvious appeal.

Perhaps the artist who engaged with the circus most consistently, however, was Marc Chagall, who – captivated by the colour and the chaos – produced imagery of it throughout his career. On moving to Paris in his twenties, he frequented the famed Cirque Médrano on the edge of Montmartre, as well as Cirque d'Hiver in the 11th arrondissement.

His first encounter, though, had come as a boy on the streets of his native Vitebsk (a town in an area of the Russian Empire that is now part of Belarus). Chagall saw a destitute man and his young children – hoping to earn some pennies for bread – perform a handful of clumsy, acrobatic stunts. The passing public weren't impressed, and in later life Chagall always remembered the sad scene of the family walking away, unappreciated and empty-handed. "It seemed as if I'd been the one bowing up there", he said, identifying himself with the father, while also connecting artists and circus performers as kindred spirits on the edge of society.

Nonetheless, the overriding sense one gets from Chagall's circus scenes isn't melancholy but joy, as is clear from the 38 exuberant lithographs that comprise the artist-book Cirque, which is to be offered – complete and intact – at Bonhams Prints and Multiples sale in London in June. Made with the renowned, Paris-based publisher Tériade in 1967, this is one of just 250 copies.

The idea for Cirque had originally come in the mid-1930s from Chagall's art dealer Ambroise Vollard, another keen circus-goer, who had his own box at the Cirque d'Hiver and often took Chagall with him. (Vollard died in 1939, and the artist only returned to the project decades later.)

Alongside his series inspired by the Greek myth of Daphnis and Chloe, Cirque is considered the peak of Chagall's printmaking achievements. His scenes feature familiar circus characters, from acrobats to bareback riders – as well as a fair few unfamiliar ones, including two-headed beasts and a female performer in a red dress sleeping on top of a lion.

With its outlandish costumes and feats, the circus provided an ideal scenario for Chagall to create the dream-like compositions for which he is famous. As he put it himself in the text accompanying Cirque, "for me, a circus is a magic show that appears and disappears... [In it,] I can move towards new horizons".

Lucia Tro Santafe is Director of Prints, Bonhams London.

Sale: Prints and Multiples
Tuesday 27 June at 1pm
Enquiries: Lucia Tro Santafe +44 (0) 20 7468 8262

  1. Lucia Tro Santafe
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8262

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