“There is meaning as well as spectacle in his figurative summer night reveries of Vitebsk and Paris, under blue moonlight, with giant bouquets of flowers, sorrowful lovers and fabulous animals.”
Painted during 1965-1970, Bouquet rose sur fond bleu is a canvas whose serene richness in terms of its iconography and palette emerges as a prelude to a period of happiness and stability in Chagall’s life. After many visits to the south of France, it was in 1966 that he actually set up his studio in Vence.
As the central, monumental theme of this piece, the bouquet — abundant in both size and colour — cannot be taken as an essentially decorative motif. As with the still lifes of the 17th-century Dutch and Flemish tradition, in Chagall’s work, flowers take on a diffuse yet powerful symbolism. In this profusion of vibrant chromaticism, André Breton saw the “metaphor of pleasure”. Most of the painter’s traditional and inventive repertoire centres around this pivotal element, with each motif representing an echo of the painter’s memories of his youth and his life’s work, while still being in keeping with the times. The same is true of the houses occupying the lower third of the composition, which evoke houses in the village of Vence, where Chagall liked to stroll in his old age, as well as the isbas (wooden huts) of his native village of Vitebsk.
In the upper left corner, some lovers embrace — one of the painter’s most delightful recurring subjects. Often hanging in mid-air, the image of the couple first appeared in his early works in Paris from the 1910s. In Bouquet rose sur fond bleu, the engagement or wedding theme, frequently expressed through a canopy, is shown here through the filigree of a floating figure above the bouquet. Isn’t she one of the joyful musicians that accompanies the wedding procession? Chagall’s emotional, imaginary bestiary completes the ode: the donkey, seen in profile at the bottom left, a fox in frilly pink petals, and the hen that blends into the blue sky, the dominant colour exuding from the canvas. Even in the colours, where areas of impasto jostle with areas of transparency, confusion reigns, to our great delight.