Marc Chagall

Esquisse pour »Le boeuf écorché« is the precursor to Chagall’s seminal work from the same year, Skinned Ox. The ox carried a significant metaphorical meaning for Chagall, serving as a connection to memories of his grandfather’s slaughterhouse and his uncle Neuch, who was a cattle dealer. In his youth, Chagall developed an uncanny fascination for the slaughter of animals.

Later, as an artist, he began drawing parallels between animal slaughter and ritualistic sacrifice. His first studio in La Ruche was close to the slaughterhouses of Paris, and he is famously recorded as saying: »Dawn is breaking. Somewhere not far away they start cutting the throats of the cattle, cows bellow, and I paint them.« The ox hangs upside down with its tongue extended, overlooking the city of Vitebsk below. In the eventual oil on canvas rendition, the extended tongue evolved into the ox consuming its own blood from a vat. This surreal and uncanny scene can be interpreted as a metaphor for suffering and loss. Additionally, it has been viewed as a substitute for Christ, with Chagall’s autobiography describing a cow’s death he witnessed as a child as »naked and crucified«.

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