Le Peintre et la crucifixion
is a wonderful example of Chagall’s unique and visionary aesthetic—one which combines rich imagery with his passion for color. The iconography of the present work is replete with images that are ubiquitous in Chagall’s oeuvre. Central to the composition is the artist himself holding his palette standing with a woman dressed as a bride in a white gown. The presence of a bride in the present 1968 composition is a poignant evocation of Chagall’s happy marriage of thirty-five years to his late wife Bella until her untimely death in 1944. The work is at once nostalgic and tender, unifying an ode to young love with a sense of melancholy and longing. Chagall’s personal suffering is underscored by the depiction of the crucifixion on the artist’s canvas, which hovers beneath a landscape of provincial houses that are strongly reminiscent to those in his rural, native home, Vitebsk.
The bittersweet imagery recalls what Chagall once wrote to an old friend Daniel Charny in New York, shortly after his seventieth birthday: “Life is always beautiful even though it is sad: good people and some close to us leave us” (quoted in Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall, Love and Exile, London, 2008, p. 488).