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A small Jewish museum acquires Chagall crucifixion painting at a bargain price

January 4, 2010 | 10:52 am

Chagall A little-known painting by Marc Chagall has taken the international spotlight after a small museum in London revealed over the weekend that it has purchased the work at a bargain price.

Chagall's "Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio" (1945) was purchased in October at a Paris auction by the London Jewish Museum of Art for 30,000 euros (approximately $43,300), according to reports. Some experts believe the work is worth more than $1 million.

The museum, which was founded in 2001, bought the gouache painting in what is being described by reports as a secret operation intended to keep major art institutions in the dark.

"If they had taken part, they would have bid the price up far beyond the museum’s budget," said a report that ran in the London Times.

The surrealist painting depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and features a deliberately anachronistic Nazi official at the bottom of the canvas. Chagall is said to have created the painting -- one in a series -- as a commentary on the persecution of Jews by the Third Reich.

"Apocalypse in Lilac" is set to go on display this week in London's Osborne Samuel Gallery.

The London Jewish Museum of Art had help in its purchase by the Art Fund, a British organization that helps institutions to acquire artwork, according to a report in the New York Times. The Art Fund was prepared to assist the museum financially in acquiring the work, but in the end, such assistance was unnecessary because of weak interest in the Paris auction.

The museum chose to keep quiet about the acquisition out of fear that French officials would try to keep the work from leaving the country.

Chagall, who was born in Russia and died in France in 1985, kept the painting in his personal collection. After his death, the artist's son, David, reportedly sold it to a private collector.

-- David Ng

Photo: Marc Chagall's "Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio" (1945). Credit: London Times / London Museum of Jewish Art