Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
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Property from an East Coast Estate
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Le Flûtiste

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Le Flûtiste
signed ‘Marc Chagall’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
39 ½ x 31 ¾ in. (100 x 81 cm.)
Painted in 1973.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist, 1973).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, July 1981.
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Marc Chagall: Paintings, Gouaches, Sculpture, November-December 1973, p. 47, no. 4 (illustrated in color, p. 4).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Marc Chagall, A Celebration, May-June 1977, no. 15 (illustrated).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Marc Chagall: Le Cirque, Paintings 1969-1980, May-June 1981, no. 4 (illustrated).
The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.


Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale


“These clowns, bareback riders and acrobats have made themselves at home in my visions. Why?... With them I can move toward new horizons. Lured by their colors and make-up, I dream of painting new psychic distortions.”
The world of the circus dominated Marc Chagall’s oeuvre, especially in his later career. Just as musicians, acrobats, clowns, horseback riders, and dancers populated his dreams, they filled his painting in spectacular, often fantastical form, bringing a dazzling color and reverie to his work. Painted on an impressive scale, a vibrantly-costumed flutist serves as the protagonist of this jubilant scene of 1973, joined by a companion, a dancing, similarly hybridic half-human, half-animal female figure. Under the glowing golden orb of the sun, the picturesque town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the south of France is nestled into the idyllic landscape, bathed in a soft blue light that heightens the dreamlike, music-filled atmosphere of the carnival world conjured in this painting.
“For me a circus is a magic show that appears and disappears like a world. A circus is disturbing. It is profound. I can still see in Vitebsk, my home town, in a poor street with only three or four spectators, a man who had come with a little boy and a little girl…” Chagall recalled in 1967 (quoted in J. Baal Teshuva, Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 196). This scene of a family performing amateur acrobatic stunts on the street of Chagall’s native Vitebsk remained with him for the rest of his life. Just as they had for artists before him, including Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, these itinerant performers alighted the artist’s imagination. At the same time, this scene filled Chagall with a deep empathy for the lonely plight of the unrecognized artist. “It seemed as if I had been the one bowing and bowing up there” (“The Circus,” in ibid., 1995, p. 197). Over the years that followed Chagall returned time and time again to this motif, depicting various characters in various settings, as the present work encapsulates.
Along with the deeply personal, nostalgic resonances of this subject, Chagall also found in the spectacle of the circus and its performers a kaleidoscopic array of color that he channeled into his painting of this theme. “These clowns, bareback riders and acrobats have made themselves at home in my visions. Why?” Chagall wrote in 1967. “Why am I so touched by their make-up and their grimaces? With them I can move toward new horizons. Lured by their colors and make-up, I dream of painting new psychic distortions” (ibid., p. 197). This world of liberated vibrant color led Chagall to conjure the luminous large scale canvases such as the present work.
Heightening the escapist, fantastical atmosphere of Le Flûtiste is the music that supposedly fills this bucolic imaginary vista. The flutist is pictured in the midst of playing, arms raised as a second figure dances to the sound of his playing. Music was integral to Chagall’s art. Indeed, in 1965, a few years before he painted the present work, Chagall had designed sets and costumes for a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Hybrid animal-human costumed performers filled the stage, dressed in vibrant colors that are reminiscent of the large flute player of the present work. Light, color, music, and nostalgia come together in this painting, the spectacle of Chagall’s vivid imagination transformed into painterly form.

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