In this painting, the two musicians are surrounded by animals – Chagall had been fond of them since childhood. He explained this when he said: “I used cows, farm girls, roosters and the architecture of provincial Russia because they were all part of the environment that I grew up in.” The figures of the goat and the rooster are also recurrent in Chagall’s bestiary, often inspired by Lubok wood engravings. The most frequent animal, the rooster, has a multitude of meanings in Chagall’s art. Linked to a ritual sacrifice the night before the Yom Kippur festival, it evokes redemption, renewal, celebration and joy, as well as melancholy. The goat, which often accompanies travelling performers and musicians to the festivals and celebrations of Vitebsk's Jewish community, is also an emblem of the Jewish traditions of his childhood. The goat is the main character in “Chad Gadya”, the popular folk song that is sung during the Passover meal in honour of all those who have been persecuted. Chagall expressed it as “an appeal for tenderness and compassion”. However, these animals, frequently represented in human form by Chagall, suffer the same fate as humans: birth, life and death. In Musique en plein air one of the goats is carried away by a man to be sacrificed, inspired perhaps by his uncle who was a butcher. “You could say that, for him, a painting is not so much a work of art, but an outpouring of emotion. He cannot paint unless he is feeling emotional, without recounting, entrusting or chanting a moment of his life, and all of his work is ultimately just that; the story and refrain of his life. [...] the scenes and figures of Vitebsk, the town where he was born and which always remained his true homeland, came from his heart: a village, an old man on a bench in an izba, a fiddler, a wedding, a birth; his people and his race were calling him, entering him, seeking to live through him. He made them into lyrical images and found in them his most profound poetry.” (Marcel Arland, Dans l’amitié de la peinture, 1980, p .170 et 171)
This melancholy is accentuated by the grey tones of the traditional wooden houses of Shtetl in Vitebsk. Furthermore, the purple tunic of the violinist is the colour of dreams and solitude, while the green of his skin depicts a person of ill-health, divine intervention, but also joy and the family home. On the other hand, the red of the chicken and the blue of the small musician radiate light. Chagall scatters the two musicians onto the canvas in a spiralling movement in front of the suspended houses, in a colourful vision that defies the laws of gravity. In doing so he follows his own maxim: “one must use colour to make the picture sing.”
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