Chagall Etchings for Dead Souls

La soirée chez le gouveneur / Evening fête at the Governor's house (Sorlier 5, Hannover 43). Original etching with drypoint, 1923-27. 335 unsigned impressions + 33 HC. No pencil-signed impressions exist. Inclulded in the 1970 BN show. Image size: 223x287mm.
Chagall (1887-1985) did not begin making etchings until 1921. After his return from Russia, he first tried his hand at etching in the prints he executed for his autobiography, My Life (Berlin, 1922-23). Moving to Paris, Chagall was approached by Ambroise Vollard, who wished to commission him to produce a set of etchings for a deluxe "livre de peintre" like the ones Vollard had already commissioned from Bonnard and Rouault. Chagall rejected Vollard’s choice of texts and instead suggested Gogol’s Dead Souls. The result is one of the masterpieces of modern art.Jean Adehmar’s brief summary in his Twentieth Century Graphics gives us some keys for entry into the work: "the numerous figures in profile show astonishing types; the Expressionist influence is very noticeable and the Russian atmosphere is admirably rendered." The characterizations of the people whom Chagall presents us are so striking that we instantly recognize them not simply as portaits of individuals but as representatives of the human comedy that so much of Chagall’s art illustrates for us. Nor is this effect diminished upon further viewing; rather it is strenghtened the more familiarity we gain with the images. As Franz Meyer has observed in Marc Chagall: His Graphic Work, the etchings paint a much larger mental canvas than mere individual types, showing Chagall’s "native Russia with its wind-swept vastness and, for all its bitter misery born of unreason and inertia . . . its inexhaustible, wholesome, joyous vitality as well." While there is satire and mockery in these plates, there is also acceptance and even love of the whole of human experience. As Meyer notes, "This entire world of stupidity, malice, and selfishness is rendered transparent through humor. . . . The basic incongruence of reality and appearance is so pointedly brought into relief that magnificently comical figures result. But this comedy is not a hostile satire or a pitiless record of these characters, with their weaknesses and their baseness. It is a liberating force which discloses the deep stream of exuberant life behind all the figures in the novel. Everywhere, running through all the comical elements, and borne along by a sort of inner joyfulness, there appears the fantastic, rich, inexhaustible reality of Russian life." ...


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