ONE WORK OF ART: Marc Chagall’s “Paris L’Opera”

Marc Chagall- Paris L'Opera- Matthews Gallery Blog

Marc Chagall, Paris L’Opera poster, Color Lithograph

When Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was commissioned to redo the ceiling of the Paris Opera in 1963, not everyone in the City of Lights was happy about it. The Russian-Jewish artist didn’t have a drop of French blood, and he was also a modernist. Critics worried that his vibrant palette and “primitive” style would clash with the pseudo-classical interior of the building. It was sure to be “die Faust auf’s Auge“—a punch in the eye—for cultured opera fans.  
Chagall might not have been everyone’s favorite, but he certainly had good credentials. Before moving from Russia to Paris in 1910, he studied under a well-known theatre designer in St. Petersburg. Years later in 1958 the Paris Opera hired him to design the sets and costumes for Maurice Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloe. That same year, he embarked on his monumental stained glass project for the Metz Cathedral
Paris Opera- Marc Chagall's Ceiling- Matthews Gallery Blog
Paris Opera
After he saw a performance of Daphnis et Chloe, French minister of culture Andre Malraux had no doubt Chagall was capable of covering the 560-square-meter stretch of ceiling surrounding the opera house’s crystal chandelier. Ignoring the bluster of the arterati, he set Chagall to work painting panels for an enormous removable frame that would cover the original Baroque-style mural by Jules-Eugene Lenepvue. 
Chagall divided the space into several color zones and wove together scenes and characters from the most beloved operas and ballets. The mural would honor the works of fourteen composers, from Mussorgsky to Mozart and Beethoven to Tchaikovsky.
Chagall’s ceiling (or, in French, le plafond de Chagall) was unveiled on September 23, 1964 during the finale of a Mozart symphony, the artist’s favorite composer. As the music swelled the great chandelier lit up to reveal the mural. Et voilà:
Marc Chagall's Ceiling at the Paris Opera- Matthews Gallery Blog
Chagall’s critics were (for the moment) struck dumb as opera goers first set eyes on what is now considered one of the great marvels of Paris.
The mural was quite a novel sight, but there’s one portion of the work that Parisians would’ve found familiar. The opera house also asked Chagall to design a limited edition poster for the ceiling’s debut. The artist based the poster on a portion of the mural featuring Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. The famous lovers hover in the air above Paris, perhaps locked in a heavenly embrace after their tragic deaths.
Marc Chagall's Ceiling detail- Paris Opera- Matthews Gallery Blog
Detail of Chagall’s Ceiling showing Romeo and Juliet
Just 5,000 “Paris L’Opera” prints were made. The poster at Matthews Gallery is signed in pencil by Chagall himself.
To get this artwork for your sweetheart, make sure to contact us before February 7 so we can ship it in time for Valentine’s Day. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for more gallery news!
*Special thanks to our friend and fellow art lover Paul, who gave us this idea and provided some of the images*

ONE WORK OF ART: Toulouse-Lautrec’s Heartbreak

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec- La Passagere du 54- Matthews Gallery

“Love is when the desire to be desired takes you so badly that you feel you could die of it,” said Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s a strange perspective on the matter, but not a surprising one when you consider the artist’s difficult life. His parents were nobles and first cousins, a pairing that probably gave Lautrec a rare congenital abnormality called osteogenesis imperfecta. He was particularly prone to bone fractures and broke both of his legs as a teen. Bedridden and bored, Lautrec’s only way to escape his misery was drawing.

By the time Lautrec moved to Paris to study art at 18, his legs had stopped growing and he struggled to support his regularly sized torso. He battled deep insecurities about his appearance, but never dropped an abrasive air of superiority. His first relationship with 17-year-old model Marie Charlet was short and tumultuous, and his second serious lover Suzanne Valadon attempted suicide.

Lautrec immersed himself in the booze-soaked world of Paris’ cabarets and brothels to numb his pain, where he was inspired to produce some of the era’s most innovative images. Many of his works tell tales of longing and lost love, including our lithograph La Passagere du 54. Here’s a sad story from our archives about the 1895 boat voyage that inspired the print:

The story of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec's "La Passagere du 54"- Matthews Gallery blog

No wonder the woman on the poster is giving the viewer the cold shoulder. Most of Lautrec’s sketches must have been completed from this angle, as his haughty subject never gave him a second glance.

Lautrec’s artistic career only lasted a little over a decade, and though he gained considerable fame for his work, his romantic prospects never improved. He died at 36 from alcoholism and syphilis, but left behind a body of work that eternally capture the spirit of the City of Lights.

Do you agree with Lautrec’s definition of love? Sound off in the comments below, or through our Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest profiles.