© Marc Chagall / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY.

Marc Chagall: Circus

“A circus is disturbing. It is profound,” Marc Chagall wrote in 1966. “A timeless dancing game where tears and smiles, the play of arms and legs take the form of a great art.” Chagall’s fascination with the circus began at a young age when he saw traveling acrobats perform at village fairs in his hometown of Vitebsk, Russia. After moving to Paris, Chagall began working with the prominent art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who also cherished the circus (and whose clients included many leading talents of the time such as Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh). In 1927, Vollard asked Chagall to create a suite of gouache paintings about the circus, giving the artist full access to sketch the flying acrobats and gaudy costumes from his personal box at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris. In 1962, Chagall returned to these early paintings and transformed them into 23 color and 15 black-and-white lithographs, capturing the wild pandemonium of the circus with a painterly printmaking technique.

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