Aca Galleries, New York
FAR Gallery, New York
Perls Galleries, New York
Edobori Gallery, Osaka
Yuichiro Araki, Okayama (acquired from the above in 1979. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 6th November 2013, lot 17)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Tokyo Central Museum, Watercolour and Drawings in the World, 1977
Tokyo, Takashimaya, Nihonbashi; Oita, Geijutsu Kaikan; Iwate, Kenmin Kaikan; Tachikawa, Takashimaya; Tamagawa, Takashimaya & Kyoto, Takashimaya, Exposition Chagall, 1980, no. G2, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1926-27)
Machida Tokyu, Seibu, Yao; Hiroshima, Museum of Art & Okayama, Tenmaya, Ecole de Paris, 1981, no. 24, illustrated in colour in the catalogue and on the catalogue cover
Tokyo, Grande Galerie Odakyu; Osaka, Musée de Yamanashi, Musee Daimaru & Musée d’Art d’Hiroshima, Marc Chagall, 1983, no. 8, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1926-27)
Tokyo, Printemps Ginza; Osaka, Nabio Museum of Art; Kitakyushu, City Museum of Art & Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture Museum of Art, Marc Chagall, 1984, no. 7, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1926-27)
Saitama, The Museum of Modern Art, Marc Chagall, 2000, no. 14, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Okayama, Prefectural Museum of Art & Gifu, The Museum of Fine Arts, Marc Chagall - La reminiscence de l’amour, 2012, no. 52, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Chagall returned to Paris to find himself unexpectedly famous, which allowed new opportunities for his art. He was signed on by the prestigious Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1926, and for the first time had some semblance of financial stability, noting that his ‘paintings now disappeared as soon as his signature dried’ (ibid., p. 326). Chagall and Bella now began to enjoy a new quality of life and set out travelling into the French countryside and along the Riviera. The inspiration of the Mediterranean is evident in Chagall’s work from this period, as rich blues spill into his art, most notably in the series of gouaches Vollard had commissioned him to create for La Fontaine’s Fables. The couple could finally leave behind the struggles of poverty they had faced in Soviet Russia, and enjoy the bliss of each other’s company.
This newfound joy in love and life can clearly be seen in Les amants au clair de lune. Although the motif of Marc and Bella Chagall embracing can be found throughout Chagall’s œuvre, this depiction of the two lovers is particularly remarkable. Shown only against a moonlit sky, this is one of the rare instances in which Chagall does not situate his lovers within a domestic interior or a familiar cityscape (fig. 1). There is no hint of a recognisable reality in which to ground the lovers. Instead, their isolation creates a dreamlike state of intimacy and infatuation, with the full moon heightening the sense of sensuality and passion of the scene. Ever the master of colour, he chooses to adorn the couple’s clothes with the complementary colours of yellow and purple, symbolising the harmonious suitability of the pair. The green colour of the shawl wrapped around Bella hints at a love that is full of life and energy, an impression that is only strengthened by the lively brushstrokes of the work. This composition also calls to mind early medieval Christian painting, in which venerated figures are portrayed against an abstracted sky that symbolises heaven. Given that Chagall himself had taken up an interest in painting Biblical scenes in the second half of the 1920s, it is possible that he deliberately evokes this comparison as a demonstration of adoration for his wife and compare their love to an otherworldly paradise.
Chagall was famous for the dreamlike atmospheres of his art, to the extent that André Breton, founder of the Surrealist movement who himself was fascinated with dreams and the unconscious, hailed Chagall as the father of Surrealism. The dreamy atmosphere in Les amants au clair de lune strengthens this portrayal of an idyllic love; one so perfect that the outside world cannot taint it. Sadly, this would not prove to be the case: Bella would pass away from illness in 1944, a tragedy from which Chagall would never recover. Her absence haunted the remaining twenty years of his life, as evidenced through her constant presence in his subsequent work. In this light, Les amants au clair de lune serves as a testimony to a moment in the artist’s life that was so dear to him - one of a creativity, inspiration, and love that would never be matched again within his lifetime.
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