- Marc Chagall
- Femme à l'âne vert or Tête de vache verte
- signed Marc Chagall (lower right)
- oil on canvas
- 33 by 72.3cm.
- 13 by 28 1/2 in.
Willy & Marina Staehelin-Peyer, Zurich (acquired from the above)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Hommage à Marc Chagall, 1967, no. 45, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1955-56)
Nara, Prefectural Museum, Marc Chagall: In Praise of Love and Nature, 2007, no. 44, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1953-54)
As throughout Chagall’s œuvre, the figures are laden with significance. The young woman with dark, flowing hair was synonymous with the artist’s beloved first wife Bella, and here she is lent extra weight by the bouquet of flowers she clasps in her hand. Flowers are part of the cornucopia of motifs that persist throughout Chagall’s œuvre, and they carry a unique significance, as André Verdet explains: ‘Marc Chagall loved flowers. He delighted in their aroma, in contemplating their colours. For a long time, certainly after 1948 when he moved for good to the South of France after his wartime stay in the U.S., there were always flowers in his studio. In his work bouquets of flowers held a special place […]. Usually they created a sense of joy, but they could also reflect the melancholy of memories’ (A. Verdet, in Jacob Baal-Teshuva, (ed.), Chagall: A Retrospective, Fairfield, 1995, p. 347).
The figure of the donkey appears from the outset in Chagall’s work, most notably against the blue background of his 1911 composition L’Ane vert now in Tate Modern, London (fig. 1). In this respect the inclusion of the animal in the present composition recalls his past, and specifically his provincial upbringing in Vitebsk, but the animals that populate Chagall’s dreamworlds – donkeys, goats, cockerels – often also seem emblematic of the artist himself.
Biblical subjects, and particularly the figure of Christ appeared frequently in Chagall’s work of the 1940s where they came to represent the suffering of the Jews and of people across Europe. In the present work the allusion is less direct but combines brilliantly with the contemplative gazes of the central figures to imbue the work with an underlying melancholy that suggests both a present happiness and a nostalgia for a lost past.