Bonhams Unveils Marc Chagall Stage Curtain in Upcoming Sale

Shreeya Maskey
Published on

Born and raised in Vitebsk, Russia, Marc Chagall would become one of the most celebrated painters and designers of the 20th century. As a child, however, he desired to be a dancer, singer, poet, and violinist. Reflecting on the unattained aspirations of his early years, the artist often found himself drawn to musicians and performers.

His stage curtain design from a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is coming to auction in Bonhams’ upcoming sale of Impressionist and Modern Art. This live auction will begin at 5:00 EST on November 17th, 2020.

Marc Chagall stage curtain designed for Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Image from Bonhams.
Marc Chagall stage curtain designed for Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Image from Bonhams.

Depicting musicians, dancers, animals playing instruments, and floating figures, his work offers a glimpse of the opera’s final act. In this piece, the artist has painted a ritualistic scene against the background of swirling red, yellow, and white. 

The finale curtain “was created for the final triumphant scene of the opera and evokes a world of lyrical childhood memories,” the auction house states in the lot description. The presale estimate for the curtain is USD 250,000 to $450,000.

After fleeing to New York during World War II, he collaborated with the New York Metropolitan Opera for a production at the Lincoln Center. He was commissioned to design the sets and costumes. At the time, Chagall took on a more experimental approach, using bright fabric and intricate embroidering. Completing the project in its third year, he created some of his most exceptional works. His artistic vision can be seen in the stage curtain, 120 costumes, 26 stage objects, and 13 backdrops, each measuring 20 meters in height.

Marc Chagall’s costumes and designs featured in The Magic Flute, February 1967, Metropolitan Opera, New York. Image from Frank Dunand / Metropolitan Opera Archives.
Marc Chagall’s costumes and designs featured in The Magic Flute, February 1967, Metropolitan Opera, New York. Image from Frank Dunand / Metropolitan Opera Archives.

Bonhams’ director of Impressionist and Modern art, Molly Ott Ambler, said about the poetic nature of his work: “The magical vibrancy of Chagall’s color palette, imbued with spiritual symbolism and rich visual imagery, was the ideal complement to the beauty of Mozart’s opera.”

The work belonged to the estate of Gerard L. Cafesjian, a publishing mogul and the founder of the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Armenia. The late collector acquired the available curtain at a Sotheby’s private auction in 2007. Before that, the piece had been in the possession of the Metropolitan Opera Lincoln Center for over 40 years.

Alongside the Chagall stage curtain is a noted work, titled Einige Spitzen (Several Points), by Russian modernist Wassily Kandinsky. The presale estimate of the lot is $1.5 million to $2.5 million. Bidders interested in sculptures can also find August Rodin’s Faunesse Debout (estimate: $120,000 – $180,000) and a bronze piece by Aristide Maillol (estimate: $80,000 – 120,000). 

For more information on each lot and to register to bid, visit Bonhams.