A landmark series of lithographs by Marc Chagall will go to auction on March 2. One of only 11 deluxe illustrated copies of The Arabian Nights, the portfolio carries an estimate of $250,000-$350,000 and will be on sale at Swann Galleries in New York.
Apart from its extreme rarity, this 1948 commission by Pantheon Books is significant because it won the Graphic Prize at the Venice Biennale in the same year and comprises Chagall’s first published colour lithographs – considered to be among the best examples of lithography from the first half of the 20th century.
The regular Chagall-illustrated edition of The Arabian Nights includes 12 lithographs, but the set going to auction – the publisher’s own – has one extra: an image of a giant bird standing over the king and Scheherazade. The Russian-French modernist’s vivid colours and delicate, fantastical animal motifs feature on four tales in the set: The Ebony Horse, Julnar the Sea-Born and her Son King Badr Basim of Persia, Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman, and Kamar Al-Zaman and the Jeweller’s Wife. Each is concerned with love, loss and reunion, and it is thought that Chagall was influenced in his choices by the loss of his wife who had died in 1944, aged only 48.
The sale will also feature a portfolio of 13 colour lithographs, Paysages et Intérieurs ($150,000-$200,000), by the French artist Jean Edouard Vuillard. Vuillard created the original matrix for these beautifully atmospheric lithographs of various scenes in 1899, only two years before he exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants for the first time. This set was in Vuillard’s personal collection and passed after his death through extended family members before being sold to a French private collector in the 1950s, whose descendants are the current owners.
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