Tiroche offers ‘lost’ Chagall painting to bidders

Saturday auction will offer 1970s work ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ that was stolen in 1996.

'Jacob's Ladder' by Marc Chagall  (photo credit: Courtesy)
'Jacob's Ladder' by Marc Chagall
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jacob’s Ladder, a painting by Marc Chagall stolen decades ago and believed lost will be placed on auction this Saturday by auction house Tiroche. How much is the painting worth?
How much is any painting worth? A painting of Jesus attributed to Bernardino Luini, not in the best condition, was sold in 1958 for 45 British Pounds, roughly $2,500 in today’s currency. The painting was restored and attributed to another painter, not to mention being shown at the National Gallery in 2011. The same painting was sold by Christie’s in 2017 for a handsome $450 million. The painting is Salvator Mundi, currently thought to be the work of Leonardo De Vinci.
An anecdote concerning the life of Chagall, in France: A friend visits Chagall’s studio to find him painting a china set. When asked why, he explains that his daughter Ida is getting married, and he would like to present her with a gift. The anecdote ends with, “The naive artist did not consider that, at this stage of his career, a china set painted by his hand is worth thousands of francs!”
Chagall did take up ceramics, so the story might be apocryphal, but the idea of him as a naive artist unaware of his own worth is fictional. As Sidney Alexander points out in his 1978 book, Chagall: a Biography, with Chagall “we are faced with myth-making... in the crucible of his imagination all the mud becomes rainbows.”
So how much is a painting worth? If it’s by a known hand, quite a bit. If the attribution is shaky, a little less. As owners live and die, fashions change. Artists and objects flicker in and out of fashion. How much is a menorah owned by the late Marilyn Monroe worth? Or the whip used by Michelle Pfeiffer in her role as Catwoman during the filming of the 1992 film Batman Returns? Recently sold in auction by Kestenbaum & Co, the menorah fetched $112,000. Pfeiffer still has her whip.
The answer to “How much is this worth?” is subjective; it’s worth exactly as much other people are willing to pay for it. That desire is fickle.
Amitai Hazan stands in front of the Tiroche Auction House/ Hagay Hacohen Amitai Hazan stands in front of the Tiroche Auction House/ Hagay Hacohen
“WHAT YOU see here in the auction house,” Amitai Hazan, surrounded by paintings at Herzliyia’s Tiroche Auction House, told The Jerusalem Post, “is just a fraction of what we are being asked to work with. It is often an unpleasant task to inform a collector, or an executioner of an estate, that a thing is not worth as much as they believe. It is even more unpleasant to reject an item because we think a sale is unlikely.”
Once an item is put up for auction, the owner must sell it to the highest bidder, assuming any minimum bid has been met. On Saturday, Tiroche hopes to sell the mysterious 1970s Chagall painting. It was stolen from the Gordon Auction House in 1996 and was believed lost. (Stolen paintings cannot be legally sold. If you purchase one you won’t be able to list it as an investment, or lend it to a collection.)
“A woman passed away in Jerusalem,” Hazan, a third-generation worker in the family-owned business, told the Post, “and the heirs found a painting in her safe.” They were overjoyed of course, a Chagall painting! “So they sent it to be verified at the Chagall Committee in Paris, and the experts there said: ‘Wasn’t this stolen in 1996?’”
The heirs had to part with the painting and hand it over to the insurance company that compensated Gordon Auction House. It is the insurance company that is now placing the painting up for auction.
Tiroche makes their auctions available online to everyone in the world. Buyers can visit the auction house in person and bid, or bid online.
“We even had people who meant to bid for just one thing,” Hazan said, “and decided to stay tuned to the auction and ended up buying a great deal more.”
While other auction houses charge a 5% extra fee for online bids Tiroche does not, so bidders compete on an even field.
The current sale will includes such gems as a painting by Shalom Moskovitzs, whom the late Meir Ronnen of the Post called “the only true indigenous Eretz Yisraeli artist”; a photograph of Andy Warhol and Jean Michael Basquiat by Chi Tseng Kwong; and, perhaps as a nod to the angels Chagal painted on Jacob’s Ladder, Falling Angel by Arie Aroch.
The annual Israeli and International Art Auction will take place on Saturday evening at Tiroche Auction House, Kikar de Shalit, Herzliya Pituah. Phone: 09-950-9893. Email: art@tiroche.co.il. Online bidders can submit their offers at tiroche.co/Bidding.asp.