Marc Chagall

The Cat Transformed into a Woman

c.1928–31–1947

Artist
Marc Chagall 1887–1985
Original title
La Chatte métamorphosée en Femme
Medium
Etching, drypoint and oil paint on paper
Dimensions
Support: 295 x 241 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Lady Clerk 1947
Reference
N05759

Not on display

Display caption

In 1926 Ambroise Vollard commissioned Chagall to illustrate La Fontaine's 'Fables'. 'The Cat Transformed into a Woman' illustrates the story of a man who so adored his cat that he was able to turn her into a woman and marry her. He thought she would be the perfect wife. However, he soon realised he could not change her in every respect, as she still chased mice. This work is one of a hundred etchings executed by Chagall for the 'Fables'. Vollard was criticized for not commissioning a French artist, but he believed Chagall shared the same aesthetic sense as La Fontaine, 'being at the same time naive and subtle, realistic and fantastic'.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Marc Chagall born 1887 [- 1985]

N05759 La Chatte métamorphosée en Femme (The Cat transformed into a Woman) c.1928-31/1937

Inscribed 'Marc Chagall' on the plate b.l. (the surname is written over the one in the plate itself); mount inscribed 'Epreuve d'artiste' b.l.
Etching and drypoint, hand-coloured in oil, 11 5/8 x 9 1/2 (29.5 x 24)
Presented by Lady Clerk 1947
Prov: Lady Clerk, Paris and London (gift from the artist c.1937)
Lit: Ambroise Vollard, Recollections of a Picture Dealer (Paris 1936), p.261; Una E. Johnson, Ambroise Vollard, Editeur, 1867-1939 (New York 1944), No.36, pp.72-3 (the etching for this work repr. pl.19); James Johnson Sweeney, Marc Chagall (New York 1946), pp.53-6, 74-5 (the etching repr. p.80); Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall. The Graphic Work (London 1957), pp.XX-XXII, XXXVI-XXXVII; Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall (London 1964), pp.344, 347-52, 370, 496, 504, 617 (original gouache of this subject repr. in classified catalogue, No.444)

An illustration to one of The Fables of La Fontaine, the story of a man who so adored his cat that he was able to turn her into a woman and married her the same day. He thought, poor fool, that his wife was now a woman in every respect; but when mice appeared, she still gave chase. As we say in England, 'a leopard cannot change its spots.'

When Vollard commissioned Chagall in 1926 to illustrate The Fables he was violently criticised for choosing a Russian artist to illustrate this great French classic. His idea was to have etched reproductions of gouaches by Chagall, who made 100 gouaches for this purpose. But it proved too difficult to translate the highly-coloured originals into the new medium, and colour had to be abandoned. In the end they were etched by Chagall himself in 1928-31, and printed in black and white by Maurice Potin and L'Imprimerie Nationale. The edition of The Fables remained unpublished until 1952, thirteen years after Vollard's death, when it was brought out by Tériade.

Chagall seems to have got round this limitation by hand-colouring some of the prints. He told the compiler in 1953 that he coloured this particular print for Lady Clerk about 1937 and that, as far as he could remember, it was the only one of this subject that he coloured. Later on, in 1951, when the edition of The Fables was in preparation, he watercoloured a number of the etchings, and a series of about thirty hand-coloured prints was exhibited at Gimpel Fils in London in 1954.

The original gouache for this composition is reproduced by Lionello Venturi, Marc Chagall (New York 1945), pl.31; a preliminary study for it in watercolour was sold at Sotheby's on 25 November 1959, lot 39.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.112, reproduced p.112