18 February 2016 Archived
Marc Chagall’s Pour Gustave Zumsteg at Strauss & Co’s 14 March auction tells the great story of a restauranteur and the leading artists of the day.
The framed drawing (R1 100 000 - 1 300 000) which Chagall dedicated to his good friend, Gustave Zumsteg, is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Comité Marc Chagall and the publication, Kronenhalle Zürich, a prestige book on the restaurant of which Zumsteg was proprietor, featuring photographs of guests such as Pablo Picasso, Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Rudolp Nureyev and Sophia Loren. The lucky buyer who secures this at Strauss & Co's Cape Town auction on 14 March will not only be acquiring a work of art but will secure a souvenir of an extraordinary friendship and a piece of cultural history.
Marc Chagall is best known for his richly coloured figure paintings depicting dream-like scenes. Floating lovers, farmyard animals, musical instruments and, in later years, Christian scenes are hallmarks of this émigré Russian painter, who translated the vanguard styles of pre- and post-WW1 Paris, notably fauvism and cubism, into an authentic personal idiom.
Although best known for his paintings and stained-glass commissions, Chagall was also an accomplished draughtsman. He produced numerous etchings for art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard including an illustrated edition of the Old Testament.
By the time he produced this autographed drawing for the Zurich fabric merchant and art collector Gustav Zumsteg (1915-2005), Chagall had returned from exile in the US and was living in the Mediterranean village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, between Nice and Monaco. At 72 he remained a prolific artist, working on a commission for Metz Cathedral, his canvas study The Circus with a Black Background (1959), and an exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris.
Between all this he met with Zumsteg, whose company Abraham AG was a major collaborator for haute couturiers like Christobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. Zumsteg's fastidious sense of style extended beyond fashion to food. Founded in 1924 and still operating, Kronenhalle is a ritzy Zurich restaurant known for its wood-panelled walls displaying earlier twentieth-centuring art.
Zumsteg's parents, in particular his mother Hulda, helped establish Kronenhalle's name as a leisure destination for discriminating talents like Coco Chanel, Pablo Picasso and Sophia Loren. The quiet Chagall Room still displays original works by both Chagall and Pierre Bonnard.
Zumsteg was a prominent collector of Chagall's work. He for instance owned Chagall's oil The Gladioli (1956), as well as an autographed copy of Vitraux Pour Jerusalem (1963), a folio containing seven lithographs based on stained-glass windows for the synagogue of Hebrew University's Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
The blue donkey in this unique drawing is familiar icon from Chagall's earlier paintings, notably his 1930 canvas The Blue Donkey, a work that bears out what Chagall biographer Sidney Alexander describes as the artist's conviction that "image-making was not the fixing of vision but the language of emotion". The dominant emotion in this drawing is one of kinship and mutuality between friends.