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Little Known Chagall Portrait to be Auctioned

September 28, 1995 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A little known self-portrait of painter Marc Chagall, kept hidden in his sister’s apartment in Russia for most of the century, will be auctioned here in November, Sotheby’s said Thursday.

The oil-on-canvas portrait is expected to sell for more than $5 million at an Nov. 8 auction said Matthew Weigman, a Sotheby’s spokesman.

The painting, ``Self-Portrait with Palette,″ dates from around 1917. It was painted at Chagall’s home in Vitebsk, Russia, and is part of a group of self-portraits he painted while experimenting with the style that would become his own.

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Chagall, a forerunner of Surrealism, left the painting with his sister when he left for France in 1922, Sotheby’s said.

She hid the canvas for more than 50 years because authorities could have seized it under Communist law. Chagall scholars learned of the painting after the collapse of the Soviet Union but the public was not told until now, Weigman said.

``The discovery of a major early self-portrait by one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed and popular artists is a rare event,″ said Alexander Apsis, director of Sotheby’s department of Impressionist and Modern art.

The large painting _ 35 by 23 inches _ shows a young Chagall with an unnaturally white complexion, holding a brilliant red palette as he stares at a pale pink image of his birthplace.

Scholars have suggested it reflects the artist’s excitement at the beginning of the Russian revolution.

``For Chagall (the revolution) implied an unprecedented, twofold emancipation,″ said Chagall scholar Franz Meyer, who helped authenticate the piece. ``As a Jew it made him a full citizen; as an avant garde artist, a recognized spokesman of the new age.″

Professor Ziva Amishai-Maisels, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the use of the color red symbolized the coming revolution.

The town is painted with touches of pink, showing it was just beginning to become aware of the revolution, Amishai-Maisels said. But Chagall’s palette and his house are fiery red.