Gogol’s Dead Souls suite
In September 1923, emboldened by a letter received from his old friend the French poet Blaise Cendrars declaring ‘Come, you are famous here, and Vollard is waiting for you,’ Chagall left Berlin for Paris. Vollard commissioned Chagall to illustrate one of the deluxe livres de peinture that the dealer had a passion for. Chagall suggested Gogol’s Dead Souls, one of his and Bella’s favourite books and began work immediately.
It was a story about the ignominious hero Chichikov’s epic journey across provincial Russia as he barters with bureaucrats and swindlers to buy up the names of dead serfs. It afforded him limitless scope for returning, in his imagination, to the rural Russia of his childhood and allowed him to tap into the ‘magic chaos’ that chimed with his own art and life.
Work on the Dead Souls etchings began in 1923 and were eventually printed in 1927. They stayed in Vollard’s warehouse ‘sleeping their sweet sleep’ as Chagall put it until 1948 where they were finally united with the text, and published by Tériade, after Vollard’s untimely death.
La Fontaine’s Fables suite
The etchings for La Fontaine’s Fables were commissioned by the famous art dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1927, and his choice of the ‘romantic’ artist Chagall to illustrate the ‘classical’ French masterpiece created a considerable furore at the time, even being debated in the Chamber of Deputies. Vollard answered the question of Why Chagall? by saying, simply because his aesthetic seems to me in a certain sense akin to La Fontaine’s, at once sound and delicate, realistic and fantastic.
Published in 1952, the naive imagery and extraordinary breadth of tones achieved in each etching convey the simple power of La Fontaine’s text, a mixture of cautionary allegories from the ancient Greek fabulist Aesop and La Fontaine’s own invented fables. They are considered one of the great suites of the 20th century.
Those offered here are from one of just 85 sets which were hand painted by Chagall himself and most are signed in the plate.
Odyssey of Homer
Marc Chagall’s Odyssey of Homer portfolio is a tribute to Homer’s epic poem and illustrates the main stages of the text. The series visualises the trials and tribulations that Odysseus encounters on his way back home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Chagall visited Greece twice – in 1952 and 1954 – and it was from these visits that he drew much of his inspiration from. Notably the ancient mythological motifs, Mediterranean landscape and culture, which are all visible.
The combined length and detail of the source text demanded extensive illustrations. Some of Chagall’s images required as many as 20 layers of colour. Ultimately, it led publisher Fernand Mourlot to publish Chagall’s Odyssey series in two volumes.
The Bible was the central subject matter in Early Christian art, Renaissance art, and the Baroque period. It was believed to be the most important piece of literature of all time, and the cornerstone of Western tradition. In 1930, Marc Chagall was commissioned by Ambroise Vollard to produce a series of illustrations for the Bible. This was the 3rd etching suite commission by the publisher and one that would inspire many of his later work.
Chagall’s Jewish identity had always informed his work, and having had direct experience with the land and people of the Bible, it was now going to be the focal point. Chagall drew inspiration from his travel to Palestine, Syria, and Egypt.
Chagall completed the first 66/105 plates before 1939. The project faced a few economical challenges during the Depression, but it was only after 1939 that the project had to be completely suspended due to the untimely death of Ambroise Vollard and the start of WWII.
In 1952, Chagall returned to the 39 unfinished plates and eventually completed the suite in 1956. Together with a new publisher, Tériade, they produced the final 105 etchings demonstrating immense skill and concentration. The incredibly detail etchings, characterised by an exquisite interweaving of lines hatched, scratched, and scored, are thought to be Chagall’s greatest and most personal work as a printmaker.
The series became known as the first major illustrated edition of the Old Testament in modern times.
Following Tériade’s acquisition of the etched Bible Suite it was suggested that Chagall could re-imagine a Bible Series in colour lithography. These lithographs, printed by the great French lithographers Mourlot Frères, were also published in 1956. They were met with such critical praise that Chagall produced a further set in 1960.
The Twelve Tribes suite
The Twelve Tribes lithographs after Chagall based on preliminary sketches for the Jerusalem stained-glass windows. In 1959 Chagall was commissioned to design twelve stained glass windows for the new synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Centre, situated in the Judean hills west of Jerusalem. The number twelve is considered spiritual and sacred. These magnificent windows symbolise the twelve sons of Jacob from whom sprang the twelve tribes of Israel.
Keen that his designs be more widely disseminated, Chagall was closely involved with the production of the set of lithographs based upon his studies, created by the world famous Mourlot Frères of Paris: the publisher, James Parton, recalled how the artist stood beside the lithographer to watch the single sheets pass through the hand-fed stone press, one colour at a time…to catch every nuance of shading. [He] threw out the whole first set of gravure plates: the yellow, he felt, was off a shade.
Celui qui dit les choses sans rien dire suite
Delicate and intimate, Chagall’s etchings for this suite were made in 1976 when he was 89 years old at the very end of his life. They were published in an edition of 225 only, one of the artist’s last and most personal works.
Published by Maeght, Chagall’s “One who says things without saying anything” suite comprises of illustrations & interpretations of the writings of famous french poet Louis Aragon. Each of the etchings depicts and refers to a part of Aragon’s literary work of the same name, and each part is also printed on the opposite side of each etching.
Aragon’s poetry was strange and diverse, often swaying between the lyrical and the overtly political. It highlighted the satirical bent to Aragon’s poetry, but also the key surrealist concept of unconscious action: ‘speaking’ without ‘saying’.
Les Ateliers de Chagall
In 1976, close to the end of his life Marc Chagall, Fernand Mourlot, and Robert Marteau collaborated in the making of Les Ateliers de Chagall (Chagall’s Studios), an illustrated book featuring seven original lithographs and two woodcuts by Chagall.
The remaining images included in the book are colour lithographs, after gouaches by Chagall, printed by Charles Sorlier under the artist’s supervision.
Les Sept Péchés Capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins)
For his mixed etchings illustrating the Seven Deadly Sins, Marc Chagall drew on his satirical but affectionate look at village life in his native Vitebsk, Belarus. He produced two prints for each sin; the frontispiece; and one extra etching for the sin of Lust. His self-deprecating sense of humor is perfectly highlighted by the frontispiece—a witty self-portrait of the artist at his easel, represented as Envy (or Desire), with the heads of the six other deadly sins piled upon his own.