The Prints of Marc Chagall and Charles Sorlier

Marc Chagall (center) and Charles Sorlier (left) with Jojo Sagourin and Maurice Morlout at the studio Imprimerie Mourlot, 1950s. Image courtesy of The Mourlot Collection

Though he had experimented with etching during his time in Berlin and with Ambrose Vollard in Paris, it was relatively late in life that Marc Chagall began to work seriously in lithography. In 1950, he was enjoying the success of being a highly regarded painter but had recently turned his attention to creating lithographs with his series, the Arabian Nights. Shortly after the series was published, he began working at the Mourlot atelier in Paris, studying with master printmaker Charles Sorlier and collaborating closely with the master on color application. For each printed work, Chagall would apply the watercolor or pastel to the principal plate and throughout the rest of the color tests for the edition, Sorlier would touch up the plates according to Chagall’s specifications. Finally, Sorlier would evaluate the complete edition and allotted proofs, hand-numbering the works and destroying any leftover proofs before Chagall added his signature.

The two artists developed a close working relationship as well as a strong friendship. After a time, Chagall granted Sorlier permission to begin making interpretive lithographs after his original paintings. Sorlier would submit trial proofs of the prints to Chagall for approval and confer on color adjustments throughout the process. Chagall wanted Sorlier to receive due credit for these afterworks and while he would hand-sign these prints, each work also contained Sorlier’s signature in-plate. 

During their time together at Mourlot, Chagall and Sorlier showcased their expert mastery of color and while Sorlier assisted other artists such as Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, and Henri Matisse during his 40-year tenure, it was his collaboration with Chagall that was the most significant. Their creations have come to be some of the most sought-after printed works from Chagall’s oeuvre and continue today to inspire and awe viewers through their poetic imagery and magical use of color.

With Chagall, nothing is quite as we expect it's going to be. He has the rare ability to start each morning afresh. For him, each day is the first day, each flower the most brilliant, each fruit the sweetest… With every stone, lithography is born again… I have had the rare privilege of seeing Chagall at work, and it cannot be denied that, at times, it seems as if an angel has entered the workshop.

Charles Sorlier