Niveau Gallery, New York
Mrs Charles B. Murphy (Catherine Kresge Dewey), New York
Private Institution (sold: Christie's, New York, 8th May 1991, lot 27)
Dimitri Mavrommatis Collection (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Christie's, New York, 12th November 2015, lot 34C)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
It was around this time that Chagall took up the subject of colourful bouquets of flowers, a theme he would endlessly explore throughout his career. The artist was first struck by the charm of flowers in Toulon in 1924; he later claimed that he had not known of flowers in Russia, and they came to represent France for him. In his dream-like paintings, he consistently drew from a vocabulary of personal symbolism: when painting a bouquet, it was like painting a landscape of his adopted country. Writing about the subject of flowers in Chagall’s work, Franz Meyer commented: ‘Many are simple still-lifes with a bunch of red roses and white lilacs; in others, pairs of lovers and air-borne fiddlers gambol through space. The atmosphere encompasses and pervades the flowers like a magically light airy fluid, vibrant with their vitality’ (F. Meyer, Marc Chagall. Life and Work, New York, 1961, p. 369).
In the present work, the rich bouquet of flowers and foliage appear to be bursting out of the blue vase, filling the entire canvas like a firework explosion and reaching the edges of the composition. The bouquet obscures any details of the landscape in which it is depicted, apart from an embracing couple and a circle of four animals visible in the foreground. With its illogical, somewhat surreal spatial organisation, Vase de roses can be seen as an expression of the artist’s internal reality, his feelings and memories rather than an objective projection of the outside world. This abandon to the joy of creation and the artistic freedom of interpretation reflect Chagall’s confidence in his style and technique and his deeply individual and subjective approach to painting.
Susan Compton has noted that the theme combining lovers and flowers ‘was initiated by the small bouquet which Bella holds in The Birthday of 1915’, now in The Museum of Modern Art, New York (fig. 1). Over the following decade the flowers gradually grew in size and importance, to eventually take centre stage in many of Chagall’s canvases, including the present work, with the lovers depicted in the background, often flying in the sky. ‘The conjunction is one that particularly appeals to Chagall, a bouquet of cut flowers being the archetypal gift for a lover to bring,’ Susan Compton has written. ‘The scent of the red and cream roses is so strongly suggested that it seems to pervade the picture and match the oneness of the pair. Yet cut flowers are ephemeral: through man’s artifice their beauty is arranged momentarily. So in these themes the artist reminds us of the impermanence as well as the ecstasy of human love’ (S. Compton in Chagall (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, pp. 211-212).
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