20 celebrated Marc Chagall masterworks from artist’s estate valued at US$4.9m

The landmark auction series 20th/21st Century Art returns during this Spring season – in celebration of the cultural dialogue between London and Paris.  

On 28 June, the series will start at Christie's London with Marc Chagall, Colour of Life: Works Formerly from the Artist’s Estate Sale. Known for his vibrant works and dreamlike imagery, 20 artworks created by the Belorussian-French figurative painter will feature in the auction – with estimates ranging from around £50,000 to 1 million pounds (approximately US$61,000 to 1.2 million dollars). Collectively, they are expected to attain nearly £4 million pounds (around US$4.9 million dollars).

Marc Chagall

Chagall's studio at Saint Paul de Vence, southern France, where he spent the later years of his artistic career 

Chagall's Les Amoureux (Lovers), 1928 | Sotheby's New York, 2017 | Sold: US$28.4 million  

Born in 1887 in Vitebsk, modern-day Belarus, Chagall grew up in a devout Jewish community. After learning the elements of drawing at a local school and studying painting in Saint Petersburg, he moved to Paris in 1910 where he further developed his trademark figurative and colourful style.

During the two World Wars, he moved across Europe and the United States. In 1949, Chagall ultimately settled in the French Riviera – a centre for modern artists at the time such as Picasso, Matisse and Leger – and was prolific with his creations until his passing in 1985. The 20 artworks featured in Christie’s upcoming sale were from his estate, and then inherited by his descendants. 

His works also belong in the collections of prestigious cultural institutions – such as Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate, London; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Arts Institute of Chicago.

In 2017, Chagall’s Les Amoureux masterwork – depicting the artist’s first wife and muse, Bella Rosenfeld – garnered US$28.5 million dollars and set a new auction record for the artist.

Lot 8 | Marc Chagall | Le peintre, la mariee et son tableau ou Couple et violoniste (The artist, the bride and his tableau or Couple and violinist); Oil, tempera and India ink on canvas

Created in circa 1970-1975
100.3 x 81 cm

  • The estate of the artist, and thence by descent

Estimate: £1,200,000 – 1,800,000

Created in the early 1970s, this present lot illustrates Chagall’s striking ability to weave together elements from memory, imagination and fantasy in his paintings – conjuring richly narrative works that continue to captivate audiences to this day.

Living in southern France with his second wife Valentine Brodsky, he devoted his time and attention to his artistic endeavours – switching between grand public commissions in a variety of media, and more intimate paintings that explore subjects and motifs that fascinated him most. Working from a place of contentment and peace, Chagall looked back on his youth – examining the role his experiences played in shaping his creative vision.

Set amidst the distinctive architecture of his hometown of Vitebsk, this current work focuses on a painter as he stands before his easel. Captured in the act of creation, this figure may be seen as a symbolic self-portrait of the artist. Since the early stages of his career, Chagall frequently represented himself in his self-portraiture – echoing examples of his artistic predecessors – such as Rembrandt and van Gogh.

Chagall's hometown, Vitebsk, is in modern-day Belarus 

Bathed in moonlight, the scene is enlivened by the presence of a series of his favourite leitmotifs, from the violinist and young boy in the foreground, to the rooster carrying a figure on its back, and the bright red cow that seems as if it may float off the canvas on the easel, directly into the painter’s world.

Each of these characters reflects a different aspect of the community, atmosphere, and play of life that coloured Chagall’s memories of Vitebsk. For example, the violinist was a frequent feature of the artist’s youth, where music was an integral component in local religious processions, feast days, community celebrations and weddings; while livestock such as cows, goats and chickens were a familiar part of the everyday fabric of the town.

Lot 5 | Marc Chagall | Le peintre et les maries aux trois couleurs (The artist and married couple in three colours), Gouache, pastel and pencil on paper

Created in 1984
116 x 81 cm

  • The estate of the artist, and thence by descent

Estimate: £1,000,000 – 2,000,000

Created in 1984, the final full year of his artistic career, Le peintre et les maries aux trois couleurs is a vibrant meditation on the nature of creativity, examining the profound connection between an artist and the events, experiences and objects which inspire them.

Painted in a rich interplay of primary colour, it focuses on the figure of a painter before his canvas, palette and paintbrush in hand – a motif often linked to Chagall’s extensive repertoire of self-portraiture. The artist’s eyes are drawn downwards to the embracing couple who float above the townscape of Chagall’s native Vitebsk.

At this painting's centre, one of the artist's favourite subjects a bouquet of flowers is also portrayed 

A central subject within his oeuvre, this familiar scene appears in a hazy, dreamlike state – as if an apparition conjured by the artist’s memory and imagination. In the upper left corner of the canvas, another scene is depicted – a crowd of people emerge from the blue pigment, their outlines sketched as if they have not fully solidified in the artist’s mind’s eye.

For Chagall, colour was among the most integral elements of a composition – the artist described it as the pulse of a work of art. Here, he divides the canvas into three distinctive sections using vivid tones of red, green and blue.

One of his favourite subjects during the later years of his career, a bouquet of flowers is also portrayed. Their resplendent blooms burst with life and offer an explosion of colour at the heart of the composition. As indicated by the exchange between the bride and groom below, such blooms represented the archetypal gift of a lover to their loved one – a symbol of passionate love within Chagall’s lexicon.

Lot 3 | Marc Chagall | Esquisse pour le cheval rouge (Sketch for the red horse), Oil and tempera on canvas  

Created in 1938-1944
41 x 31.7 cm

  • The estate of the artist, and thence by descent

Estimate: £200,000 – 300,000

This present lot emerged during one of the most turbulent periods of Chagall’s life. 

Faced with the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Europe and the looming threat of war, the artist and his first wife, Bella Rosenfeld, retreated to the French countryside in the late 1930s. They first stayed in the Loire Valley, and then moved to Gordes – a village in southeastern France.

Setting up his studio in a room with the largest windows, which offered spectacular views over lavender fields and the nearby mountains, Chagall continued to work – concentrating largely on religious subjects and circus themes. Though shocked by the speed with which France fell to the German advances in 1940, it was not until the Vichy government began to pass anti-Semitic laws that the Chagall’s accepted the full gravity of their situation. And, following their daughter Ida’s urging, they accepted an offer of refuge in New York.

Marc, first wife Bella (centre) and daughter Ida (left)

Sailing westwards in June 1941, he transported a large portion of his oeuvres – paintings, sketches, drawings and studies – to his new home. Over the ensuing years, these compositions offered an important bridge between Chagall’s past and present, as he adjusted to life in New York.

Esquisse pour le cheval rouge was among the works which made this journey – the composition was originally conceived in 1938, while the artist was still in France, and later completed in America. Filled with dynamism, this present painting exudes a dreamlike quality – blending fantasy and reality together to create a heady atmosphere that is at once familiar and entirely unexpected.

Here, characters float through the internal space in a complex, interweaving arrangement. Above the townscape of Vitebsk, a trapeze artist flies in a dramatic curve. His arms are thrown outwards as if to catch the woman who strides towards him – her attention fixated on the book in her hands. An angel serenades the pair with a violin as it floats beneath them, while a horse soars through the air.

Other highlight lots: 

Lot 6 | Marc Chagall | Ecuyere sur cheval vert au cirque (Rider on green horse at the circus), Gouache, pastel, India ink, coloured ink, coloured crayon and pencil on paper

Created in 1979-1980
65 x 51.2 cm

  • The estate of the artist, and thence by descent

Estimate: £200,000 – 300,000

Lot 1 | Marc Chagall | Vision du peintre au double visage (The painter’s vision with two faces), Gouache, tempera, pastel and India ink on paper

Created in 1978-1980
79.5 x 57.7 cm

  • The estate of the artist, and thence by descent

Estimate: £150,000 – 250,000

Lot 11 | Marc Chagall | L’inspiration du peintre au chevalet (The painter’s inspiration at the easel), Gouache, pastel, coloured crayon, brush, India ink and pencil paper

Created in 1977
66.2 x 49.2 cm

  • The estate of the artist, and thence by descent

Estimate: £150,000 – 250,000

Lot 2 | Marc Chagall | Coq sur fond rouge Paris et Vitebsk (Rooster on red background Paris and Vitebsk), Gouache, pastel, pen and India ink and coloured ink on paper

Created in 1981
51.5 x 68 cm

  • The estate of the artist, and thence by descent

Estimate: £120,000 – 180,000

Lot 9 | Marc Chagall | Le peintre et les maries (The artist and married couple), Tempera and India ink on Masonite

Created in 1980
55 x 46 cm

  • The estate of the artist, and thence by descent

Estimate: £120,000 – 180,000

Auction Details:
Auction House: Christie’s London
Sale: Marc Chagall, Colour of Life: Works Formerly from the Artist’s Estate
Date and Time: 28 June 2022 | 1pm (London local time)
Number of lots: 20