Marc Chagall illustrates The Fables of La Fontaine
Chagall began working on the illustration for La Fontaine’s Fables in 1927 on Ambroise Vollard’s commission. He was still etching in black and white when he undertook the work, but it was a black and white incorporating all the colour of the gouache.
The final result is the outcome of various techniques being used at the same time: he etched, and then covered the etched sections with stopping varnish to obtain a very intense painted effect.
The point of the needle draws the leaves and bushes in their most intricate details; he is a master at rendering the complexity of plumage or a soft fur and uses a sophisticated cross-hatching technique to express the shades of black and white.
Chagall intertwines his poetry with that of La Fontaine, to create a world that pushes the limits of the animal and human, with each of the characters appearing on the page in its full complexity, like the rooster perched on the tree in The Rooster and the Fox; we are aware of the rooster’s diffidence merely by looking at the position of his feet, or like the other rooster that rejoices in the gems of its own stupidity and that Chagall inflates with its own vanity.
Or how in The Aging Lion, who he portrays with the face of a man imbued with a sense of infinite sadness without conveying any bitterness of even resignation, but something of an expression that is more enigmatic, more closely resembling the sphinx.
With La Fontaine’s Fables, the artist’s interest in the world of fables that had already been seen in his previous works re-emerges.
Chagall loves emphasising the mythological and universal aspects of the fable, similarly with the humanity of certain animals whose expressions and attitudes reflect those of humans.
The Fables illustrate the major themes of life that Chagall was drawn to in his works: love, death and human folly; diametrically opposed themes that meet and clash as if in a Petrarchan oxymoron.
What strikes us in the illustrations of the Fables is the masterful way in which Chagall positions his characters: the figures seem to stand out on the page apparently dominating it in the same way as the Hebrew script, where the sense of the page appears especially clear, and the Russian icons from Chagall’s earlier memories of his childhood and youth.
Chagall once again manages to amaze us, creating suggestions and helping us discover the world through the eyes of a child.
The exhibition is curated by Enok Sacramento, sponsored by Correios, produced by Arte Impressa. The artwork is part of the Art Camù Collection.
Brasilia, Museo Correios, from 31 October 2014 to 11 January 2015
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