Wally Findlay Galleries, New York (acquired in 1978)
Mr & Mrs Robert L. Berard (sold: Sotheby's, New York, 11th November 1988, lot 51)
Sold: Christie's, New York, 12th May 1993, lot 50
Purchased at the above sale by the father of the present owner
The influence of these surroundings, as well as of the artistic milieu of 1920s Paris, is evident in Fleurs. Realised as a glorious close-up, the bouquet of flowers is flamboyantly abundant with blooms of pinkish-red and bluey-white set against luxuriant foliage picked out with the precision that characterises his pre-war style. In the foreground colours and shapes swirl around the base of the vase with certain ghostly forms – a house, perhaps a bird – emerging. These oneiric forms seem a rare direct allusion to the work of his Surrealist contemporaries, although Chagall, despite being fêted by Apollinaire as surnaturel, always maintained a distance from the main Surrealist movement.
Fleurs also contains other examples of the artist’s personal iconography. Hidden shyly behind the vase are the intertwined forms of two lovers. 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’ (S. Compton in Chagall (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, pp. 211-212), now in The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Here, these clandestine lovers give the composition an intimacy and tenderness that reflect the deep contentment that Chagall experienced during this time.
As Elisabeth Pacoud-Rème observed: ‘From 1923 to 1935, Chagall experienced a period of happy acclimatisation the effects of which shine through his work. He painted numerous bouquets, exuberant and luminous, showing through this, a taste for nature that in his maturity he would also express through landscape […]. The bouquets of this period, veritable exercises in painting, are not however exempt from the symbolism often associated with this genre or allusions to the passage of time. Indeed Chagall said in a Jewish-American journal in 1932: “Flowers? I can’t watch them die and I put them into my canvases and so they live a little longer”’ (E. Pacoud-Rème in Chagall entre guerre et paix (exhibition catalogue), Musée de Luxembourg, Paris, 2013, p. 88, translated from French).
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