The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by the Comité Chagall.
Perls Gallery, New York
Sale: Christie’s New York, November 10, 1987, lot 68
Private Collection, Asia (sold: Sotheby's London, April 3, 1990, lot 61)
Acquired at the above sale by the previous owner
Throughout his career, Marc Chagall (see fig. 1) consistently turned to flower paintings not as rigorous studies in realism, but rather as expressive evocations of fantasy in their conflation of still-life, narrative motifs, and landscape. Like Henri Matisse (see fig. 3), Chagall resided in Saint-Paul-de Vence, France, from 1950-1973 and sought to capture the splendor and luminosity of his Côte d’Azur Mediterranean town by experimenting with bold colors and unstructured compositions (see fig. 3). According to Chagall’s biographer Franz Meyer, “The light, the vegetation, the rhythm of life all contributed to the rise of a more relaxed airy, sensuous style in which the magic of colour dominates more and more with the passing years. At Vence he witnessed the daily miracle of growth and blossoming in the mild, strong all-pervading light – an experience in which earth and matter had their place” (Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, p. 519).
In Le Bouquet des Fermiers a multi-colored bouquet of flowers erupts from a vase to fill the canvas. The work is one of Chagall’s finest late still life paintings for it has an extreme boldness of color and dynamic energy which bespeaks the fantasy and exuberance of Chagall’s own inner world. This work is an iconographical rendering of domestic life and happiness, represented by the explosive form of the colorful bouquet and the surrounding images of Chagall’s favorite themes including: a husband and wife, farm animals, a mother and child, and his native village of Vitebsk represented by the simple wooden houses.
At this time in Chagall’s career he enjoyed much international success and recognition and was living in the hilly countryside of Saint-Paul-de Vence with his wife Vava. Le Bouquet des Fermiers represents the artist’s tranquil disposition and the beauty that he found in his surroundings and offers insight into his personal history. The flowers of the bouquet are magnificently oversized compared to the other figures, which imparts to the viewer a sense of abundance and whimsy, while the thickly painted electric colors of red, pink, and yellow of the petals gives the work a brilliant energy. Chagall continues using these bold colors for the goat on the lower left of the work and the cock on the upper right. “For Chagall the animal represents harmony and contentment with the cyclic destiny of nature; the innocent acceptance of being a part of nature’s great ensemble of living things” (Werner Haftmann, Chagall, New York, 1973, p.136). He views these farm animals as creatures in harmony with nature, further adding to the message of the scene being the artist’s personal utopia.
Upon closer examination Chagall bring us even deeper into his inner world in the images along the edges of the canvas. The embracing couple on the lower right is likely a reference to Chagall’s relationship with his wife Valentine Brodsky (Vava) whom he married in 1952. This was his second marriage after he lost his first wife, Bella, who died shortly after World War II. In 1947, Chagall used this oversized bouquet theme with a pair of lovers to express his feelings of loss and nostalgia while he was mourning Bella in Bouquet aux amoureux volants (see fig. 2). Yet, the artist’s depiction of Vava in this 1966 work seems to indicate that he has once again found domestic bliss. As he did in many other works at this time Chagall employs the color blue to create a sense of mysticism, alluding to the spiritual significance that color holds in religious iconography. The blue images in the upper background, at the top of the work, are a tribute to Chagall’s childhood home of Vitebsk, Russia where he and his family were deeply rooted in the Jewish community. The artist believed this early period in Vitebsk greatly inspired his creativity throughout his lifetime and alluded to it many of his works. The images along the upper edge are echoed in the foreground of the picture, which include the dominant pair of lovers, a mother and child and a multi-colored goat. Le Bouquet des Fermiers is a quintessential example of how Chagall created images which transcend classical depictions of such subjects by fusing them with personal history and emotion.
Fig. 1, The artist in his Saint-Paul studio, circa 1966
Fig. 2, Marc Chagall, Bouquet aux amoureux volants, c.1934-47, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London
Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, Nature morte aux citrons sur fond fleur de lisé, 1943, oil on canvas, sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 10, 1988, lot 26
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