Depicting the medieval town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the distance, with its distinctive church steeple, this scene of the French Riviera is host to a floating female figure and head, a whimsical goat and a bouquet of flowers, set against an all-encompassing sapphire-blue background. An ambiguous sun or moon at the top of the composition emanates light and reveals the delicate angel swooping down from above. For Chagall, the essential functions of painting were symbolic not formal, a record of his sensations, memories and moods. Originally from Russia, the artist explains why seemingly incongruous themes, namely the goat motif, assume such prominent roles in his œuvre: ‘I painted cows, dairies, roosters and the architecture of the Russian provinces as a source of forms because all these subjects are part of a country I come from, and these things have without doubt left in my visual memory a more profound impression than all the others that I may have received’ (Charles Sorlier (ed.), Chagall by Chagall, New York, 1979, p. 78). Emphasising the point that every painter is from somewhere, Chagall instils a certain aroma of his native land in each of his paintings by returning to the images of his childhood. This enchanting iconography invites the viewer to experience Chagall’s special affinity with painting and dreaming.
La Chèvre rouge reflects Chagall’s fascination with the South of France and the beautiful tranquility that the countryside offers. The artist once said that the suspended flowers represent his adopted home country of France. According to Franz Meyer, Chagall’s biographer, ‘the light, the vegetation, the rhythm of life all contributed to the rise of a more relaxed, airy, sensuous style in which the magic of colour dominates more and more with the passing years’ (Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, p. 519). Chagall’s skill in conveying a pervading light was revered; Picasso, who lived near Chagall during his years in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, once spoke to Françoise Gilot of his palette: 'When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour is […] His canvases are really painted, not just tossed together. Some of the last things he’s done in Vence convince me that there’s never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has' (quoted in Françoise Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1989, p. 289).
With the varying shades of colour that swirl harmoniously across the surface, La Chèvre rouge is simplified in its palette yet deceptively complex in its fanciful composition, representing the mystery of dreams. Chagall himself said he was a dreamer who never woke up and La Chèvre rouge reflects the artist’s warm, romantic, pictorial universe, full of personal metaphor and sentimentality.
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