Marc Chagall’s Powerful Portraits: Part 2

Chagalll_Jew in Green

Marc Chagall, Jew in Green, 1914. Oil on cardboard laid down on fiberboard, 39 1/2 x 32 in. Im Obersteg Foundation, permanent loan to the Kunstmuseum Basel © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Marc Chagall’s three monumental portraits from 1914, Jew in Red, Jew in Black and White, and Jew in Green, are on view in Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland. Read more about Jew in Black and White here.

I start from the initial shock of something actual and spiritual, from some definite thing, and then go on toward something more abstract.—Chagall

The model for Jew in Green, a rabbi who introduced himself as the Preacher of Slouzk, left a profound effect on Chagall. He explained, “I had the impression that the old man was green; perhaps a shadow fell on him from my heart.” Chagall depicted him impoverished and in despair, with one eye open, the other closed, and his hands painted in different colors. Behind him are religious texts he recited daily in Hebrew, including the Kaddish, a prayer praising God: “He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace for us and for all Israel.” In 1936, Karl Im Obersteg acquired Jew in Green from Chagall by trading it for another picture by the artist.


Collection Comparisons: Modigliani’s Portraits

In the Collection Comparisons series, we pair one work from Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland with a similar work from the Phillips’s own permanent collection.

Collection Comparison_Modigliani

(left) Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Mrs. Dorival, c. 1916. Oil on canvas, 24 x 15 in. Im Obersteg Foundation, permanent loan to the Kunstmuseum Basel © Mark Gisler, Müllheim (right) Amedeo Modigliani, Elena Povolozky, 1917. Oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 19 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1949

After moving to Paris in 1906, Amedeo Modigliani painted portraits of friends and artists, including Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo. He earned a reputation for thoughtful character studies of his contemporaries in Montparnasse. Many of these works reflect Modigliani’s interest in sculpture, expressed in the contours of the sitter’s features in Portrait of Mrs. Dorival, on view in Gauguin to Picasso. The model, American-born Blanche Antonia James, was the wife of Comédie Française actor Georges Édouard Lemarchand, known as Dorival. A collector, Dorival owned paintings by Monet, Renoir, Utrillo, Modigliani, and others.

Like Karl Im Obersteg, Duncan Phillips purchased a portrait of one of Modigliani’s patrons, Elena Povolozsky, who was given this painting by the artist. This work is on view in an exhibition of works from The Phillips Collection at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni.

Manet’s Head of a Woman

Manet_Head of a Woman

Édouard Manet, Head of a Woman, 1870. Oil on canvas. The Rudolf Staechelin Collection

Upon entering Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from SwitzerlandÉdouard Manet‘s Head of a Woman is one of the first works you’ll encounter. During the 1870s, Manet produced portraits such as this one which captures a glimpsed expression of a woman slowly moving into an amused smile. Its brushwork and color palette reveal the artist’s admiration for the 16th- and 17th-century Dutch and Spanish masters he studied on travels and at the Louvre. Although the sitter is unknown, her pose is characteristic of portraits Manet painted of his wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, his sister-in-law, the Impressionist Berthe Morisot, and his student Eva Gonzalès. Manet’s painting style would later take on a brighter palette and freer brushwork, the result of his association with younger Impressionist artists such as Monet and Renoir, who saw him as a mentor.

Assistant Curator Renée Maurer remarks that a common question about this picture is whether it’s finished or unfinished. What do you think? What are some of the elements of the painting that make you feel that it is complete or incomplete?