On Saturday November 20 in celebration of the AROP’s (Association pour le Rayonement de l’Opera de Paris- loosely translated as the Friends of The Paris Opera) 30th anniversary Vacheron Constantin presented during the gala dinner a unique Metiers d’Art – Chagall et l’Opera de Paris in yellow gold.
This unique piece will not be sold but shall remain within the Vacheron Constantin collection!
Chagall and the Paris Opera
Inaugurated in 1875, the Paris Opera also called Palais Garnier (in tribute to its architect Charles Garner) was a symbol of opulence, beauty and grandeur to a degree that surpassed most monuments of that time. The Opéra de Paris was realized under the rule of Napoleon III as part of the reconstruction that Paris underwent during the Second French Empire.
In 1963, after providing nearly 100 years of entertainment, it was decided that the Paris Opéra was in need of a makeover. France’s minister of Culture, André Malraux, was charged with finding and commissioning an artist worthy of such an undertaking: enter Marc Chagall. The offer was made one evening after the representation of Daphnis and Chloé whose stage-setting was done by Chagall.
This choice immediately sparked contraversy among many Parisians, worried about the idea that a non-French artist (Chagall was Russian born) was being charged with the decoration of a national French monument. Chagall, true to his style, responded to critical articles published about him saying :
« They really had it in for me. It is amazing the way the French resent foreigners. You live here most of your life, you become a naturalized French citizen, work for nothing decorating their cathedrals, and still they despise you. You are not one of them. »
Chagall, un-deterred in his determination to do complete his work and prove his critics wrong, began his work in 1964 at the tender age of 77. After only one year, Chagall had completed a work of art that beautifully filled the 220 square meter ceiling. The canvas that had been so debated and fiercely criticized was unveiled to the public on September 23, 1964, silencing doubters and validating Chagall’s efforts. In an interview, Chagall explained his work to an enthralled audience :
“Up there in my painting I wanted to reflect, like a mirror in a bouquet, the dreams and creations of the singers and musicians, to recall the movement of the colourfully attired audience below, and to honour the great opera and ballet composers... Now I offer this work as a gift of gratitude to France and her École de Paris, without which there would be no colour and no freedom.”
Chagall used this platform to pay tribute to some of the greatest composers of all time. He decided that the best way to go about transforming the massive ceiling into a tribute that would do justice to these legendary artists would be to divide the outer circle of the ceiling into five individual sections, each one painted a different color.
The Blue Section majestically celebrates Mozart and Mussorgsky with a rendering of The Enchanged Flute. In the Green Section, Chagall honors Wagner and Berlioz with beautiful visuals of both Tristan and Isolde and Romeo and Juliettey. Continuing around the circle, the White Section is dedicated to Rameau and Debussy and presents Chagall’s depiction of Pelleas and Melisande. The Red Section pays tribute to Stravinsky and Ravel with the timeless masterpiece Daphne and Chloe. Last, but certainly not least, is the Yellow Section dedicated to Tchaikovsky and Adam featuring Swan Lake and Giselle.
Chagall’s work showcases the artist’s deep and passionate love for theater as well as painting. The majestic images are united magnificently with a beautiful array of luminous colors that effortlessly contrast the theater’s predominantly gold and red theme. « I adore the theater and I am a painter. I think the two are made for a marriage of love. I will give all my soul to prove this once more. »
The delicate enamel dial is a work of art in its own right the first drawings
It started as a crazy project with a final result which is close to perfection ! Imagine having to reproduce a 200 square meter masterpiece on a 31mm dial and which took over 3 and a half months to create!!!
Anita Porchet the famous Swiss master enameller (amongst others she had done the dials of the Metiers d’Arts models for the brand’s 250th anniversary) was charged with the immense task of reproducing Chagall’s masterpiece.
This dial is based on the grand feu Geneva enamel technique. The grand feu enamels used in the Geneva technique reach their point of fusion at an extremely high temperature, between 800°C and 900°C, resulting in exceptional purity and longevity.
The Geneva technique of miniature enamelling with a protective flux coating is undoubtedly that which requires the greatest expertise from the master enameller. On a dial measuring 1 mm thick and 31.50 mm in diameter, a white base enamel - that is extremely hard because of its high fusion point - is applied on the dial. This dial undergoes a first firing at a temperature of around 900°C in order to be able to withstand the many subsequent firings in the furnace.
On this white enamel base serving as a “background canvas”, the artist starts by tracing the outlines of the various motifs with a brush consisting of two or three marten’s hairs. Using a strong binocular magnifying instrument, she recreated the atmosphere and the emotional vibrations of the work to be reproduced in miniature. This involved a few touches of colour on the chosen shade, placed in successive points in an extremely precise order, moving throughout the entire process from the softer shades to the purer, brighter ones. The extremely fine powders and pigments used for miniature enamel paintings are blended with oils such as lily flower oil, to make them easier to apply.
After around twenty firings in the oven at temperatures of between 800 and 850 degrees Celsius, the work begins to take on its final appearance. During these various stages, the colours are vitrified by the heat and progressively change, become more intense and retract. The enameller’s experience plays an essential and determining role. The furnace firing times must be carefully calculated according to the type and the quantity of matter applied, and their exact duration depends on the artists “gut feeling”, in fact there is no specific rule on this matter as the firing times can change according to outside humidity and heat!. The path leading to the final touch is strewn with all manner of pitfalls, and the fragile and sometimes refractory enamel is liable to “explode” each time it is removed from the furnace. The cooling stages thus require a great deal of patience to avoid sudden changes of temperature. A single wrong move can cause irreversible damage and force the artisan to begin all over again.
When the miniature enamelled painting has been completed and fired for the last time, it is generally coated with two or three layers of a finishing flux consisting of a transparent enamel serving to protect the work from the potential effects of ageing. Following the final firing of this flux (at 800°C), a fine polish with an abrasive stone is performed, followed by the final polishing operation after the last vitrification in order to achieve the full radiance and pictorial splendour of the work.
But that’s not it!
The enamel dial once ready is then engraved on its periphery with 12 Nymph heads (the same ones who surround Chagall’s paining at the Paris Opera) each bearing a different expression. These minature engravings which measure 2 mm (!!) too Vacheron Constantin’s master engraver, Jeanne Ulrich, 3 full days to finalise. She came out of this “completely exhausted but happy” as she puts it
Métiers d’Art – Chagall & l’Opéra de Paris “Tribute to Famous Composers”
Even though this timepiece will remain unique, Vacheron Constantin will soon launch a collection of 14 one-of-a-kind timepieces entitled “Tribute to Famous Composers” and reproducing one of the composers appearing in Chagall’s monumental work using the same grand feu enamel painting.
The yellow gold watch case is 40mm in diameter and houses the automatic cal 2460.