Bonhams has unveiled a stage curtain created by Marc Chagall for the Metropolitan Opera’s 1967 production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” that will go up for sale during the house’s Impressionist and modern art sale in New York on November 17. The piece is expected to fetch a price between $250,000–$450,000.
Following Chagall’s wartime exile to New York, he was commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Opera for the production’s debut in 1967 at Lincoln Center. He worked closely with designer Russian designer Volodia Odinokov on the project, which took three years to complete and involved him overseeing 120 costumes, 26 stage objects, and 13 backdrops, each measuring 20 meters in height.
The work comes from the estate of Gerard L. Cafesjian, a publishing mogul and the founder of the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Armenia. The late collector purchased the present work privately at Sotheby’s in 2007. Before the sale, it remained at the Metropolitan Opera Lincoln Center for four decades.
According to the auction house’s catalogue essay for the work, the finale curtain represents “a ritual music scene, the figures embodying the archetypal characters seen throughout Chagall’s work,” and it includes some of Chagall’s signature motifs: trumpeting angels, animals playing instruments, and floating figures.
Molly Ott Ambler, Bonhams’s director of Impressionist and modern art in New York, described the work’s “spiritual symbolism and rich visual imagery” as “a perfect reflection of the final act—a tumultuous composition of musicians, dancers, and imaginary animals, all vibrating outward in a dominating swirl of red with vivid white, yellow, blues, and greens.”
A 2017 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art explored the role of music and theatre in Chagall’s practice. The exhibition featured 14 costumes and 16 sketches from the artist’s production for The Magic Flute, along with others created for ballets Aleko, The Firebird, and Daphnis and Chloé.
Two 30-by-36-foot murals by the artist featuring a similar scheme to the present work are installed in the lobby of the New York Metropolitan Opera. He also completed monumental ceiling design projects for Moscow’s Jewish Art Theatre in 1920 and the Paris Opera in 1964.
Other highlights in the Bonhams sale set to feature the Chagall curtain include Russian modernist Wassily Kandinsky’s Einige Spitzen (Several Points), from 1925, estimated at $1.5 million–$2.5 million, and August Rodin’s bronze sculpture Faunesse debout, version au rocher simple, conceived in 1884 from an edition of eight by the Musée Rodin in 1961. The Rodin is estimated at $120,000–$180,000.