Photo: Washington Post
Evelyn Nef was a patron of the arts who loved the way that painting, sculpture, music and dance could capture the joys and sorrows of life, and so it was not surprising that when she died widowed and childless in 2009, at the age of 96, she would leave her choicest artworks to the nation.
The National Gallery of Art became the recipient of a mosaic by Marc Chagall, 31 drawings, 46 prints and 25 illustrated books by such artists as Auguste Renoir, Wassily Kandinsky and Fernand Léger, along with early prints and other paper works by Chagall and Pablo Picasso.
Transferring the paper art from Nef’s home in Georgetown to the gallery was a straightforward if meticulous undertaking by the institution’s art handlers and carpenters, experienced in packing and ferrying priceless pieces. Moving the mosaic from a garden on 28th Street NW to the Mall became a 31 / 2-year journey of epic challenge by a legion of conservators, mosaicists, carpenters, handlers, masons, engineers and architects.
Now installed in its new location in the National Sculpture Garden, the mosaic has been given a fresh and public incarnation, fittingly as a quiet monument to a woman who became the master of sparkling reinvention. Sitting sweetly in a sylvan corner of the sculpture garden near Ninth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, “Orphée” speaks to Chagall’s friendship with Nef and her husband, John Nef, and to the avant garde artist’s lifelong exploration of surreal figures and disjointed mythical and sacred themes.
John Nef, an economic historian and art lover, had known Chagall before the Nefs married in 1964. When the artist first proposed a mosaic for their Georgetown garden, Evelyn “Evvie” Nef imagined a small plaque for the garden wall. The next year, they went to his atelier in the south of France, where Chagall unveiled his marquette of “Orphée” and informed them that the resulting mosaic would be a jaw-dropping 10 feet high and 17 feet wide. The creation was a gift, but the Nefs had to build a 30-foot-high brick wall to house the piece. It was unveiled with the artist in attendance on a balmy evening in November 1971.
Guests found a scene of Chagall’s typically desultory but enchanting images: Orpheus (but no Eurydice), the Three Graces, a couple lying under a tree, a huddle of immigrants and skyscrapers and Pegasus and an angel floating around a golden sun.
Chagall’s powers as a colorist are evident: The work glows in its blocks of yellow and blue, becomes more intensely hued close up, and carries a transcendent luminosity. Assembled by a legendary Italian mosaicist Lino Melano, who also executed mosaics for Picasso, Georges Braque and Léger. “Orphée” is composed of countless thousands of hand-cut pieces — tesserae — of colored glass and an array of stone. The stone absorbs the light, the glass reflects it.
via Chagall mosaic moves from private garden to National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden – The Washington Post.