Chagall returned to France in 1923 and was to remain there until the outbreak of the Second World War. The work of this period in France is permeated by the love and happiness that Chagall experienced with his first wife Bella Rosenfeld and their daughter Ida, but the country itself was also to have a significant impact on his art. As James Johnson Sweeney explains: “It was in Toulon in 1924, Chagall recalls, that the charm of French flowers first struck him. He claims he had not known bouquets of flowers in Russia – or at least they were not so common as in France …. He said that when he painted a bouquet it was as if he was painting a landscape. It represented France to him. But the discovery was also a logical one in the light of the change taking place in his vision and pictorial interest. Flowers, especially mixed bouquets of tiny blossoms, offer a variety of delicate color combinations and a fund of texture contrasts which were beginning to hold Chagall's attention more and more” (J. J. Sweeney, Marc Chagall, New York, 1946, p. 46).
Chagall’s return to France coincided with the birth of Surrealism and the poetic dream-like imagery so ubiquitous to this movement is a defining feature of Chagall’s artistic style. In Fleurs de printemps (La Cruche aux fleurs de printemps) this surreal quality is introduced by the two winged figures at the window. The figure in the red dress is an extension of one of the central figures Chagall used in his iconography, the violinist. A reminder of his childhood in Vitebsk, where the music of the violin accompanied the basic events of life – birth, marriage, and death – the violinist carries an almost totemic power in Chagall’s work and would remain central to his oeuvre over the following decades. In the present work these figures are juxtaposed against the wonderfully vibrant bouquet of flowers that fills the center of the composition, perfectly capturing the springtime atmosphere alluded to in the work’s title.
In Fleurs de printemps (La Cruche aux fleurs de printemps)the beguiling imagery of Chagall’s dreamscape is framed by a window. Chagall first began using this motif as early as 1913 in his iconic painting Paris par la fenêtre. The window would remain deeply important to the artist, often, as in the present work, symbolizing the shift between dream and reality. It was this transformation that Chagall always sought, as he once commented: “Painting seemed to me like a window through which I could have taken flight towards another world” (quoted in S. Compton, Chagall, London, 1985, p. 20). Chagall had depicted imagery from the New Testament on occasion, especially in his imagery of the crucifixion, which he used as a symbol of suffering for the Jewish people. Fleurs de printemps (La Cruche aux fleurs de printemps) celebrates life and the birth of spring; similar allegorical imagery is found in annunciation scenes, such as the Merod Altarpiece where a small, angelic figure pours through the light of the window towards the Virgin Mary.
Fleurs de printemps (La Cruche aux fleurs de printemps) was previously in the collection of Lee Ault, who was the publisher of Art in America. As an art collector he ran the gallery Lee Ault & Company on Madison Avenue, New York, in the 1970s. Since 1970 this work has remained in a private collection.
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