Fables - Fables

Artist’s Name
Author’s Name
Marc Chagall (1889-1985)
Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695)
1952, Paris
Printed in two volumes, size 40 x 30,5 cm
The font of the text is written in italics that was inscribed by Garamond in the 16th century
100 off-the-text original oxygraphs and 2 that are on the cover
Chagall inscribed the copper plates between 1927 and 1930 for Ambroise Vollard
Printed on ‘vélin de Rives’ paper:
  • 85 copies include 100 oxygraphs, which are accentuated by hand by the artist, numbered 1-85
  • 100 copies, numbered 86-185
  • 15 copies, off the market, numbered I-XV
  • 100 additional albums were printed, which contain the 100 original oxygraphs printed on ‘Montval’ paper, size 42 x 34 cm
In 1927, Marc Chagall was asked by publisher Ambroise Vollard to illustrate Fables by the famous French author Jean de la Fontaine. Although Chagall had worked on this project for three years, from 1927 to 1930, in the end Vollard was not able to publish it. In 1950, Tériade obtained the rights. Because of his meticulousness and patience, in March of 1952 one more important and exquisite work of art saw the light of day.

Jean de la Fontaine’s Fables, one of the best-known ‘modern’ books of myths and legends, are considered to be a masterpiece of French literature. Within twenty-six years, La Fontaine wrote two hundred and forty-three myths inspired by the ancient Greeks, Indians, Persians, Arabs and Chinese mythmakers. This oral treasure of the East had already become known in ancient times through Aesop’s fables, which was passed on in the Middle Ages, and from the seventeenth century and on continued to flourish in the same effective manner thanks to La Fontaine’s version. La Fontaine himself has created most of the Fables, while the rest, which have been inspired by Aesop’s fables, have been altered so as to present a new text. Through the richness of his myths and his vivid narration, this ingenious and innovative author describes to the world the real meaning of life in the best possible way.

Both Vollard and Tériade considered Russian-Jew Marc Chagall -one of the most productive and important artists of the twentieth century- to be the ideal illustrator of this momentous work. Overcoming his hesitations, Marc Chagall leaves behind his individual artistic world in order to enthusiastically enter the writer’s world. Therefore, his black and white oxygraphs express the same imagination and aesthetic that is characteristic of La Fontaine’s Fables. Internalising the text with love and respect as well as without adding or subtracting any of the elements of the written text, the artist draws a perfect analogy, simultaneously using thin and thick lines. This harmonious co-existence of text and illustration stems in part from his place of origin that helps transmit instinctively, spontaneously and naturally all the magic of the East. With this work of art, considered to be a milestone in his career, Marc Chagall created something original in technique and in the way his subject matters are represented.