Les Mariés au coq was painted circa 1975. At that time, Chagall worked in his studio in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, as he had done since 1966. The colour of the Mediterranean had stayed in his mind since the end of the war; following his exile to the United States, the death of Bella (his first, beloved wife) and his separation from Virginia Haggard in 1952, he began visiting there more frequently. What is delightful at first glance is the beautiful, almost monochrome blue of the sky and the sea, since it makes one want to dive into the work. Is this not the Earth’s blue? “A master of colour, Marc Chagall reinvented a whole host of shades that had previous been overlooked. All of them vibrate with different intensities. With Chagall, the blues are not totally blue; they are often an intense blue, full of clever effects allowing for certain apparitions and expressing the approach of night. Less dense, at times, mixed with a milky white, they evoke the break of day. They bring out unusual tones in the language of today’s painters: indigo, cobalt, ultramarine, when they are not Prussian blue, or naturally azure, turquoise or lavender.” (Chagall connu et inconnu, Paris, Grand Palais National Galleries, 2003, p.15).
The interplay of elements and the spatio-temporal confusion represent one of the most interesting characteristics of Chagall’s work. They remind us that beyond the tender feelings that permeate most of his paintings (with the exception of those painted while in exile to the U.S. during World War II), the Surrealist elements are significant. While this is not a matter of likening Chagall to a historical group that was around at the same time as him but to which he never belonged, still we must not forget the striking originality of the artist’s imagination. From 1910 on, when he arrived in Paris, his characters took flight, animals took part in processions, and houses floated. In Les Mariés au coq, the main motif is the most delightful recurring theme in Chagall’s repertoire, namely, that of the bride. Beyond the detailed reference to one of his wives (in 1952, Chagall married Valentine Brodsky, known as “Vava”), the figure of the bride is the embodiment of love, itself an expression of the divine. “Chagall’s brides are conventional figures summoned in this painting to say, like pictographs: “Attention: happiness!” They are part of the artist’s pictorial rhetoric in the same way as the roosters or donkeys, the violinists or clowns.” (Chagall connu et inconnu, Paris, Grand Palais National Galleries, 2003, p.212). Held by her husband in a gentle embrace and disappearing into the haze of the white dress (the pose and the sfumato bring to mind Rembrandt), the young wife is accompanied by a traditional procession. Borrowing both from folklore and Chagall’s colourful imagination, the procession is led by an oversized, all-powerful yellow rooster. In the florid birdsong, the flying fish – another animal emblematic of Chagall’s bestiary – symbolizes the purity of feelings of love. Two musicians, one of whom is drawn on the neck of the rooster, while the other plays the flute in the centre of both the sky and the composition, add to the festive setting and the sense of marital bliss. The detached houses evoking the faraway isbas (wooden huts) of Chagall’s native Vitebsk and the houses of the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence add the final touches, merging the shores of imagination and time.