Marc Chagall, ‘Nu à l'oiseau’, 1974, Martin Lawrence Galleries

By 1961, Marc Chagall’s illustrious achievements ranged from painting and drawing to most forms of print-making, as well as work with stained glass and ceramics. He was looking for a new technique to explore when Gérald Cramer his editor and project manager suggested working in print monotypes. Over the next fifteen years, in six weeklong sessions, Chagall worked with monotypes in his studio in Vence and St-Paul-de-Vence. His master printer Jacques Frélaut of Lacourière in Montmartre installed a small press near his studio so that he could work in the quickly moving medium.

In March of 1962, Chagall experimented with using a combination of copper and Plexiglas plates. Chagall quickly abandoned the Plexiglas later describing it as soulless and mechanical in nature. He stuck with the warmth and texture of the copper plates and decided through experimentation that the subtle pulp of japon paper was preferable for allowing the vibrancy of the color to come through.

Monotypes are a challenge to the artist’s natural talent. Unlike a painting that can take several months or years, a monotype is a performance. In order to work rapidly, Chagall would search for his harmonious inner voice and would position the prepared plate either vertically or horizontally. He would then plunge into the work whole-heartedly using a few selected sketches to inspire him. Chagall would use his fingernail, brush handle, and razor blades to draw the various lines in the wet ink, and his fingerprints are often directly visible in these works (see La Paix, Le Bouquet de Saint-Paul, and Vava a la Veste Quadrillé) . He used gravity turning the plates in all directions to allow the natural texture of the copper plate to smooth the ink. Despite the use of turpentine to prolong the painting process Chagall only had thirty minutes to complete each image before having it rushed to the press for printing.

The quick nature of the monotype allows for the raw emotions of the artist and his talents to shine through separating it from all other printing processes. Gaston Bachelard spoke of Chagall when he said “Create fast, the great secret for creating life. Life doesn’t wait, life doesn’t reflect. Never drafts, always sparks.”

Chagall’s passion is seen in the following recollection by Patrick Cramer. He recalled that one day at lunch the housekeeper put a nice sausage on the table which Chagall’s eyes devoured. He was reminded by Vava, his wife, that his teeth were not strong enough (at the age of 87) and that it was better to give it up. Chagall responded, “Since I cannot eat it, I’ll paint it. Bring it in the shop!” The end result was monotype 226 reprinted in volume II of the Cramer monotype catalog.

The complete collection of monotypes is about 306 individual prints. The year 2011 marked fifty years since Chagall first explored the use of monotypes.
English translation: Nude on a Bird. Monotypes are a challenge to the artist’s natural talent. Unlike a painting that can take several months or years, a monotype is a performance. The quick nature of the monotype allows for the raw emotions of the artist and his talents to shine through separating it from all other printing processes. Despite the use of turpentine to prolong the painting process, Chagall only had thirty minutes to complete each image before having it rushed to the press for printing.

Signature: Signed by the Artist

Image rights: Martin Lawrence Galleries

Bouquinerie de l’Institut in Paris, October 20 – December 23, 2011
Galerie Patrick Cramer in Geneva, November 19, 2011 – January 21, 2012.

About Marc Chagall

Honored for his distinct style and pioneering role among Jewish artists, Marc Chagall painted dream-like subjects rooted in personal history and Eastern European folklore. He worked in several mediums, including painting, printmaking, and book illustration, and his stained glass windows can be seen in New York, France, and Jerusalem. Chagall arrived in Paris in 1910 and began experimenting with Cubism, befriending painters Robert Delaunay and Fernand Léger. Chagall’s style has been described as a hybrid of Cubism, Fauvism, and Symbolism, and his supernatural subjects are thought to have significantly influenced the Surrealists. Though he actively engaged in the Parisian artistic community, art for Chagall was first and foremost a means of personal expression. He preferred to be considered separately from other artists, his imagery and allegory uniquely his own.

Russian-French, 1887-1985, Vitebsk, Belarus