Throughout his long and fruitful career, Chagall managed to maintain a distinctive and personal style. While he experimented with a range of different styles including Fauvism and Cubism, Chagall did not fully integrate to any movement. Rather, he absorbed elements of these movements and added their characteristics to his own output. Chagall’s work is easily recognized by his extraordinary use of color. His chromatic mastery was so widely recognized that Picasso told his lover, Françoise Gilot, “His canvases are really painted, not just tossed together. Some of the last things he's done in Vence convince me that there's never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has" (quoted in François Gilot, Life with Picasso
, New York, 1989, p. 282).
This understanding of color and light trained the artist for his work in stained glass which in turn informed many of his paintings. Examples of Chagall’s stained glass works can be seen in the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem and in the Art Institute of Chicago, which he dedicated to the American Bicentennial as an appreciation of the commitment of the United States to cultural and religious freedom (see fig. 1). Coq et femme à l'éventail
was painted while Chagall was experimenting with stained glass, and the work strongly reflects this exploration. The work is divided into four distinctively colored sections. Crisp lines and strongly delineated coloring evoke a similar delineation to that of stained glass, underscoring the lasting impact that the artist's foray into glasswork had on his mature aesthetic.
Love and marriage were an important part of Chagall's life, as well as a recurring theme in his painting. His first great love Bella Rosenfeld was also from the artist's native Vitebsk, and remained a powerful symbol of his homeland, while his second wife, Vava Brodsky, was always associated for Chagall with France, where he lived at the time and where the two met. These highly personal and romantic symbols of his life both in Russia and in France are harmoniously and subtly combined in the present work through its rich colors. After losing Bella, somber blues dominated Chagall's output. In contrast, Chagall’s output from the 1950s was permeated by a vibrant red palette. The present work is striking in its combination of these two tonalities: allowing the viewer an unusual opportunity to appreciate these two distinctively different periods in a single painting.
Coq et femme à l'éventail showcases Chagall's mastery in assembling an array of folkloric images in a dense and colorful composition. This work contains several of the most crucial elements in the artist's pictorial iconography, including the violinist, the dancing peasant, and the goat. These symbols of his agrarian roots evoke the villages of his childhood home in Russia. The rooster at the center of the composition is a key motif for Chagall. As noted by Franz Meyer, the bird had for thousands of years "played a part in religious rites as the embodiment of the forces of the sun and fire. This symbolic meaning still lingers on in Chagall’s work, where the cock represents elementary spiritual power" (Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, p. 380).
The journalist Alexander Liberman, who visited Chagall in the late 1950s, wrote: "Like a human being, a Chagall painting reveals its rich complexity only if one has lived with it and in it, in the way the artist has during its creation. One must look at his paintings closely to experience their full power. After the impact of the overall effect, there is the joy of the close-up discovery" (Alexander Liberman, The Artist in His Studio, New York, 1995, p. 337).