Marc Chagall began his preparation for the
Daphnis & Chloe suite by making two trips to Greece. Chagall was
delighted with the tale.
The story of Daphnis and Chloe, a pastoral elegy
attributed to the Greek poet Longus, dates from the second century
A.D. It is a classical romance involving the adventures of two
foundling children raised by adopted parents who are humble shepherds
in the idyllic setting of the Isle of Lesbos. The discovery of the
infants who have been left exposed takes place at different times, but
in both circumstances their clothing and rich tokens found with them
suggest the foundlings may be of noble birth. In each instance the
shepherd who finds the baby is alone and tempted to steal their
treasure and leave them to fate, but instead bows to the paternal
instinct to nurture and raise the child as his own. As Daphnis and
Chloe grow to be young adults tending their adopted parents' sheep and
goats on the sun-drenched Grecian hillsides and pastures, they
discover that their friendship is turning to love but in their
innocence they do not know how to proceed. Together they experience
many trials and tribulations, protected throughout by the god Pan,
before finally realizing their true fate. Daphnis and Chloe has served
through the ages as the inspiration for nearly every love story that
has followed including Romeo and Juliet.
Falling in love with Greece: its landscape, history and
climate, deeply influenced his choice of color and form for the
Daphnis and Chloe lithographs. It has been said of Chagall that he
neither added nor subtracted from what his imagination understood from
the text. The result was imagery that illustrated the elegy of Daphnis
and Chloe from a more intimate perspective thus transforming the world
of Daphnis and Chloe into a universal Eden where figures seem to float
in an atmosphere of infinite happiness and warmth.
The Daphnis and Chloe book is the most important graphic work that
Marc Chagall has created. Because of the quality, format and number of
lithographs it contains, the book constitutes a work of notable
importance which, unquestionably, can be placed at the top of our list
of illustrated works of our time.
Charles Sorlier, the colorist for the project, hand-mixed the color
palette Chagall used in this suite. He and Chagall worked together to
develop new blues and greens to meet Chagall's vision of this
paradisiacal story. Chagall also experimented with surface textures.
It was standard at the time this suite was published in 1961 to use
approximately 3 to 6 lithographic stones in creating a single print.
Chagall generally used 25-30 individual stones per print in the
Daphnis & Chloe suite creating the density and layering of color,
which is so unique and rich.
The format of the book is 12-5/8 x 16-1/2" and it contains 42
lithographs. The illustrations are full page without margins; 26 are
in 12-1/2 x 16-1/2" format, and 16 on facing pages, that is, in 16-1/2
x 25-1/4" format. The lithographs are presented in two Volumes, boxed
together, and the text was printed by the French Imprimerie Nationale.
Classification of the edition is as follows: "There were printed 250
copies on Arches, numbered from I to XX. All these copies were signed
by the artist. In addition, there were printed a few sets of all the
plate, which are reserved for the artist and the publisher."
Marc Chagall's Daphnis and Chloe illustrations, published in 1961,
have since become nearly priceless.
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