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Half-Past Three (The Poet)

Marc Chagall, French (born Vitebsk, Russian Empire), 1887 - 1985
Chagall made this painting shortly after leaving St. Petersburg, Russia, where he attended art school, and arriving in Paris in 1911. One of a group of monumental, euphoric works, it demonstrated his mastery and distinctive formulation of the latest avant-garde artistic developments in his new home. That meant embracing the head-spinning style known as Cubism. This painting is a portrait of Mazin, a Russian poet who often stopped by Chagall’s studio to drink coffee while his friend painted late into the night. Diagonal shafts of color generate kaleidoscopic energy, and the transparency of forms creates a teasing, ambiguous effect; the portrait detaches from ordinary reality. Mazin’s topsy-turvy head may relate to an idiom Chagall would have known from his childhood spent in the Jewish community of Vitebsk in Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. The Yiddish fardreiter kop (turned head) signifies a giddy mental state—an apt description for this image of poetic inspiration. ...

Object Details
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]; gift to Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1950.1. 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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