MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Nicolai Gogol: Les Âmes Mortes
the complete set of 96 etchings, 1923-27, on Arches wove paper, with title, text in French, justification and 11 etched vignettes for chapter headings and 11 index plates carrying outline etchings of the prints, signed in black ink on the justification page, copy number 203 of 368 (there were also 33 hors commerce copies numbered in Roman numerals), published by Tériade, Paris, 1948, in two volumes, loose (as issued) with paper-covered boards and grey slipcase
400 x 300 x 120 mm. (overall)
Cramer books 17
C. Sorlier, Marc Chagall et Ambroise Vollard, Editions Galerie Matignon, Paris, no. 20-73 (another copy illustrated).
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Lot Essay

Chagall first visited Paris from 1910 to 1914, and it was here that he first caught sight of the famous dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard.

Vollard’s shop particularly attracted me… I press against the window, flatten my nose against it, and suddenly I bump into Vollard, himself. He is alone in the middle of his shop, wearing an overcoat. Im afraid to enter. He looks sullen. I dare not.” (The artist, quoted in: C. Sorlier, Marc Chagall et Ambroise Vollard, Paris, 1981, pp. 14-15)

It was not, however, until almost a decade later that the artist and publisher first met. Vollard’s genius as a publisher was to commission prints and books from talented artists, whether or not they were experienced printmakers. Following the successful publication of Chagall’s first portfolio of etchings Mein Leben by the Berlin publisher Paul Cassirer, Vollard urged the artist to move to Paris to work with him. On the first of September 1923, Chagall arrived back in Paris with his wife and daughter.

In the wake of their first meeting, Chagall who had always had a great interest in literature, agreed to illustrate an edition of the classic Russian novel, Les Ames Mortes by Nicolai Gogol (the present lot). This established a close working relationship between the pair, which saw Vollard commission two further illustrated books from Chagall, Les Fables de la Fontaine (see lot 32), and La Bible (see lot 33). Unfortunately, Vollard’s sudden death from a car accident in 1939 meant he never saw the completion of these books, and following the outbreak of World War II their production was put on hold. It was not until after the war that the finished books were published by Tériade.

From 1924 to 1925 Chagall devoted the majority of his time to the production of plates for Les Ames Mortes. The etchings for this book are crucial to understanding the development of Chagall’s art, both in his choice of subject matter, and his technique. While the plates illustrate the fiction of Gogol, their depiction of rural life derive from his youth growing up in the town of Vitebsk, then part of the Russian Empire, now Belarus. Chagall’s playful, often humorous interpretation of the text, draws upon the rich Jewish culture and customs of his upbringing, and also reflect an acute eye for narrative detail. Many of these motifs reappear throughout the artist’s oeuvre. Les Ames Mortes was also an important milestone in the artist’s development as a printmaker, and is characterised by a highly expressive use of the etched line and aquatint tone to create exuberant and dynamic compositions.

According to Cramer the ninety-six plates were printed by Louis Fort in 1927. Chagall completed the further eleven vignettes in 1948, just prior to publication and these were printed by Raymond Hassen.

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