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Half-Past Three (The Poet)
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Half-Past Three (The Poet)

Marc Chagall, French (born Russia), 1887 - 1985

Made in France, Europe


Oil on canvas

6 feet 5 1/8 inches × 57 inches (195.9 × 144.8 cm) Framed: 6 feet 8 1/2 inches × 59 7/8 inches × 2 1/8 inches (204.5 × 152.1 × 5.4 cm)

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 272, Modern and Contemporary Art, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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This monumental painting, made shortly after Marc Chagall’s arrival in Paris from Saint Petersburg, reveals the head-spinning impact of Cubism. The work began as a portrait of the Russian poet Mazin, who often stopped by the artist’s studio to drink coffee in the early hours of the morning. Chagall may have intended the poet’s illogically upturned head as a visual expression of the Yiddish idiom fardreiter kop (turned head), which denotes a state of giddiness or disorientation bordering on madness, an appropriate description for such a delightfully tumultuous image of the poetic inspiration that—as the painting’s title suggests—flows like wine at half-past three in the morning.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Arriving in Paris from Saint Petersburg in 1910, Marc Chagall rapidly assimilated the language of avant-garde European art and married it to the artistic traditions of his native Russia. Here Chagall puts the pictorial devices of Cubism and Futurism to the service of a poetic fantasy imbued with a dreamy lyricism far from the café scenes of contemporary French and Italian artists. The fragmentation of the body and background into faceted planes and diagonal shafts of color gives the composition a prismatic sensation, as if the poet of the title were lifted into the magic space of a kaleidoscope. The poet, who is thought to be Chagall's friend and neighbor, also serves as a generalized figure of all artistic inspiration: green head upturned on his neckless shoulders, affectionate feline muse by his side, friendly wine bottle floating off the red table, poem or letter in process. Ann Temkin, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 306.
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Half-Past Three (The Poet) belongs to the group of monumental, euphoric paintings that Chagall produced in the months following his arrival in Paris from art school in Saint Petersburg. The blue poet sits at his red table, green head upturned on neckless shoulders, rooted in the ordered chaos of his environment. Chagall's fragmentation of the body and background into fractured planes and diagonal shafts of color imbues the composition with a prismatic sensation, as if the poet inhabited the magic space of a kaleidoscope. The painting reflects Chagall's strong sympathy with the painters Robert and Sonia Delaunay, whose so-called Orphic paintings were structured with bright and luminous color, far removed from the somber palette of Picasso and Braque's Cubism, and surely reminding Chagall of the folk art of his native Russia. The palette of blue, green, red, violet, and icy white—charted in his vertical signature—creates an overall unity that embraces vivid details like the flowers on the curtain and the utensils on the table.

    Amid the relatively inexpressive landscapes and still lifes of Cubism, the lyrical sentiment of Chagall's compositions was initially criticized as too poetic. Indeed, in his first years in Paris, he moved in a literary circle, counting among his closest friends the poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars. The figure portrayed here serves as an ode to the muses: coffee cup in hand, feline temptress by his side, friendly wine bottle tipped at the ready. The poet's notebook, with Cyrillic phrases from a love poem, doubles as a palette, with its stripes of color opposite the writing. This delightfully tumultuous image of artistic inspiration persuasively suggests an indirect self-portrait. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 31.


Herwarth Walden (1878-1941), Berlin, probably acquired 1914 [1]; Nell Urech-Walden (1887-1963) (wife of Herwarth Walden, divorced 1924), Berlin, until 1926 [2]; ceded by her to Chagall in 1926. Christian Zervos (1889-1970), Paris, probably acquired from the artist [3]; Louise and Walter C. Arensberg, Los Angeles, through Marcel Duchamp as agent, by July 1937 [4]. 1. See Meyer, Marc Chagall, 1967, p. 206, and Jordan, Paul Klee and Cubism, 1984, p. 217, note 25. Jordan says that Walden probably acquired it in 1914, at the time of Chagall's first one-man exhibition in the Galerie Der Sturm organized by Walden. 2. Herwarth Walden sold part of his art collection, including "Half-Past Three", to his wife Nell, a Swedish heiress, to avoid seizure of the paintings as enemy contraband during WWI. When Chagall returned to Berlin in 1922 to collect payment for his paintings left on consignment with Walden in 1914, he found that inflation had rendered the proceeds worthless. He sued for compensation, but in 1926 agreed to accept three of his paintings, including "Half-Past Three", and ten gouaches from Nell Walden in lieu of payment (see Meyer, p. 315-316). 3. Zervos probably acquired the painting directly from Chagall, with whom he was good friends (see Jean-Paul Crespelle, Chagall, New York, 1970, pp. 193, 213). 4. See Duchamp's provenance notes of 8 September 1951 (giving the date as 1938) and undated letter of August 1951 (PMA Arensberg Archive). The painting is listed in the exhibition organized by Yvonne Zervos (1905-1970), wife of Christian Zervos, entitled "Origines et Développement de l'Art International Indépendant," at the Jeu de Paume, 30 July-31 October 1937, as "Coll. Arensberg, Hollywood."

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