Marc Chagall

The Dance and the Circus


Not on display

Marc Chagall 1887–1985
Original title
La Dance et le cirque
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 349 × 267 mm
Presented by the artist 1953

Display caption

In 1950 Chagall began work on two large murals to decorate the auditorium of the newly-opened Watergate theatre in London. 'The Dance and the Circus' and 'The Blue Circus' are studies for these murals. Chagall loved both the theatre and the circus. He had painted several other murals to decorate the Jewish State Theatre in Moscow much earlier in 1919-20. At this time, he had also been involved in a number of theatrical productions, and had designed stage sets and costumes. Later, in New York, Chagall designed sets for both the ballet and the opera, and was commissioned to paint murals to decorate the Metropolitan Opera House.

Gallery label, April 1997

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Catalogue entry

Marc Chagall born 1887 [- 1985]

N06135 La Danse et le Cirque (The Dance and the Circus) 1950

Inscribed 'Chagall Marc' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 13 3/4 x 10 1/2 (35 x 27)
Presented by the artist in memory of Velona Pilcher 1953
Lit: Peterborough, 'London Day by Day' in Daily Telegraph, 12 April 1950, p.4

In February 1950 Velona Pilcher and Elizabeth Sprigge, two of the founders of the Watergate Theatre which opened in 1949, came to know Marc Chagall who was wintering at Cap Ferrat in the South of France, and told him of their little theatre, designed to be an experimental centre for all the arts. Chagall offered to paint murals for it which would be his first mural decorations for a theatre since his work for the State Jewish Theatre, Moscow, in 1919-20. Some months later two large paintings, each 231 x 174cm, 'The Dance and the Circus' and 'The Blue Circus' (or 'The Dance' and 'The Circus' as they were then called) arrived in London, and were placed on the side walls of the auditorium, where they were publicly unveiled by Sir John Rothenstein on 4 September 1950. They remained there until February 1951, when the artist recalled them for an exhibition of large paintings at the Galerie Maeght in Paris and his exhibition at Nice the following winter. Meanwhile he lent the Watergate Theatre these two studies [see also Tate N06136]. But Velona Pilcher died and the theatre passed into other hands, so the artist decided to present the oil sketches to the Tate Gallery in memory of her and of his work for the theatre she helped to found. (Information from Miss Elizabeth Sprigge, 3 December 1953).

These studies, which are described and said to be already complete in a letter from Mme Chagall from Vence quoted in The Daily Telegraph, 12 April 1950, resemble very closely the pictures shown at the Watergate Theatre. However, the artist afterwards reworked the large compositions and made a few minor changes.

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, pp.114-15, reproduced p.114

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