San Francisco

Period Paintings and Mark Chagall

Maxwell Galleries

The lower gallery features a typic al dealer’s exhibition of European and American period and genre paintings from a considerable span of history: an eclectic array indeed, juxtaposing such diversities as a rather fine “dock-scape” by the 19th century Belgian marinist, Paul J. Clays, a sentimental confection by Bouguereau, a very attractive little Derain, a trivial Vuillard, some early Flemish portraitists, a Grandma Moses and a Prendergast, to mention only a few.

While for the most part this is the usual run of minor works by famous painters and more ambitious undertakings by the justly obscure, two exhibits merit particular notice. The more arresting of these is a fine landscape with figures, credibly attributed to Alessandro Magnasco (1667–circa 1742) in which the eloquence of Magnasco’s sweeping, dramatic style, reminiscent of El Greco, is well exemplified. Unfortunately, the refined exaggerations of Magnasco’s rhetoric soon degenerated into histrionic bombast in the landscape and marine fantasies of Marco Ricci whom Magnasco influenced, but who overshadowed him, to become the more celebrated representative of this transition period between late Renaissance, Venetian Romanticism and Rococo extravagance.

Of less credible, though no doubt sound, attribution is a small unidentified portrait ascribed to Dosso Dossi (Giovanni Luteri, 1480–1542), court painter to Alfonso d’Este and generally regarded as second only to Giorgione as an exponent of High Renaissance Romanticism. Conspicuously lacking in this portrait are the syntax of crisp linearities and the sensuous opulence of deep luminous color and vibrant contrasts that characterize the elegant and voluptuous style of this important painter. However, perhaps the absence of “the grand manner” is comprehensible in what is, after all, only a small portrait of a courtier. It should be noted that in Dossi’s time it was customary for a celebrated artist to assign the basic execution of such minor routine commissions to an atelier apprentice, his own hand applying only a few brushstroke nuances to the finishing. Hence, even the most reputable of dealers’ experts have long a bidden by a paraphrase of Lord Coke’s historic promulgation of legal agency theory—“the act of the servant is the act of the master.”

Co-featured is a large representative selection of the graphic work of Marc Chagall including prints from such early series as the illustrations to La Fontaine’s Fables and to Gogol’s “Dead Souls,” and some relatively recent color lithographs capturing the innocent and sentimentally bucolic eroticism of Longus’ 7th-century romance, “Daphnis and Chloe.” In the latter series appropriately Byzantine colors and syntax are employed, while Byzantine asperity of delineation is avoided by soft focused pastel mutations and fragile attenuations reminiscent of Pascin. It is worth noting that some of these prints seem to be illustrative of episodes that derive from Fokine’s choreography to Ravel’s Ballet (for which Chagall designed sets), and from Renaissance elaborations of the story not to be found in the earliest preserved Greek manuscripts. All told, these lithographs are but preciously conceived and executed pastiches. This too, however, is appropriate, for so, likewise, are ·the Byzantine pastoral romances. The Fables and “Dead Souls” prints are more compelling, for there, in sometimes macabre and sometimes flamboyant grotesqueries, a younger Chagall had forcefully assimilated into his own vocabulary the spectacularly dramatic and vigorously expressionistic romanticism of such 19th-century graphicists as Dore, Goya and Daumier.

Palmer D. French