EVERYTHING YOU CAN IMAGINE IS REAL: PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
As new love and Mediterranean light poured into Chagall’s life, the tragedy of loss and war slowly lessened; the artist’s work, ever affected by his personal circumstances, also brightened. A brilliant wash of emerald green and crimson red, Fleurs de St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat arises from this body of work following the war, featuring several motifs that would remain central to Chagall’s late oeuvre (see fig. 2). Lighter, renewed tapestries of couples, flowers and animals began to replace Chagall’s darker, religious and Holocaust-related works. Here, a bride painted in a stark streak of white captures the eye at the left of the composition, balanced by her groom in green, likely inspired by memories of Chagall’s first wife Bella as well as his newfound happiness with his second wife Valentina “Vava” Brodsky whom he wed in 1952.
For the artist, whose early childhood was filled with the music of his close-knit community, the symbol of the violin always reminded Chagall of his native Vitebsk and was often incorporated into his scenes painted in or about other towns. The folkloric characters of donkey and rooster, common in his scenes since his earliest works, reappear here as muted embellishments within the moonlit scene. As a stand-in for the artist and symbol of virility and love, the rooster would become an increasingly dominant motif in his later works, echoing his passion for the great loves of his life.
The bottom portion of the canvas is devoted to the placid coastline of the work’s titular town, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, situated on a picturesque peninsula southeast of Nice, which served as the locus of Chagall’s artistic rebirth in 1949. Like many of his color-rich and dreamlike compositions, Fleurs de St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat incorporates elements of Chagall’s past and present; amalgamating atmospheres of the myriad cities where the peripatetic artist lived and traveled. The aquatic landscape here is distinguished by the boater and fish at center and left of the composition. The luxuriant and entrancing green which dominates the work is interspersed by harmonious touches of royal blue, creating a bold palette which is rare within the artist’s oeuvre and suggesting a sense of abundance and renewal. A similar optimism is reflected in the lush bouquet of flowers which rises to meet the tender figures above. As André Verdet explains, “Marc Chagall loved flowers. He delighted in their aroma, in contemplating their colors. 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” (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Chagall: A Retrospective, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1995, p. 347).
The Mediterranean’s resplendent light and diverse landscape would infuse his work during his four-month stay in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, resulting in several gouaches filled with the area’s coastal foothills and basked in the soft lights of the moon and sun. Having settled in the area shortly thereafter, first in Vence and later in the nearby Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Chagall’s proximity to artists like Matisse and Picasso encouraged his continued artistic growth and afforded him inspiration and opportunity for collaboration in the following years (see fig. 3). The artist’s love affair with the South of France, reignited by his time in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, would last a lifetime and influence the artist’s work until his death.
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