The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
As had Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, and Bonnard before him, Chagall found the Mediterranean an irresistibly congenial and stimulating environment in which to live and work. In 1950 he purchased Les Collines, a hillside house with surrounding property in Vence, and made it his permanent home, thereafter spending only short spells in Paris. The beautiful area enchanted the artist, and he chose to spend most of his time during this period living there.
Chagall’s vivid palette of bold reds, yellows and blues in Le coq jaune dans le ciel de Vence serve to intensify the emotional charge of the composition. The years in Vence would lay witness to some of the artist’s most colourful and technically developed canvases, so much so, that even his great rival Picasso would later eulogise: ‘When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only one left who understands what colour really is...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 [colour] that Chagall has’ (quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 282).
Floating across the vivid red sky over Vence is the bright yellow cock of the title. The cock or rooster occupies a place in Chagall’s personal mythology similar to that of the Minotaur in Pablo Picasso’s symbolism. In both cases the artist has projected himself into non-human form, and in this process has transformed the designated creature into a personal avatar, which the artist is then free to employ as a surrogate in his paintings – in this case in addition to the self-portrait in blue at the left hand side of the composition. While Picasso’s Minotaur is drawn from ancient mythology, and possesses a terrifying aspect that stems from both its appearance and the gory legend of sacrifice that surrounds it, Chagall’s rooster has far more humble barnyard origins and its familiar domesticated character inspires more congeniality than awe. “The fowlyard, too, has a place in Chagall’s recollections of his childhood. That is why poultry are always part of the Russian scenes painted during his first Paris period. In the twenties impressions of French farmyards and work on [La Fontaine’s] Fables lend the motif a new topicality” (F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1964, p. 381).
Chagall had previously identified more closely with four legged farm animals, such as the donkey or the goat. By the late 1920s, the cock assumed a dominant position in his bestiary. “As a symbol, the cock has an entirely dierent and far stranger nature than the quadrupeds, which, despite their four feet, are more closely related to man. For thousands of years it has played a part in religious rites as the embodiment of the forces of sun and fire. This symbolic meaning still lingers on in Chagall’s work, where the cock represents elementary spiritual power” (ibid., pp. 380-381).
At the left of the composition, we see the floating couple, embracing and seemingly shooting into the sky. Even though Chagall had married Valentine (“Vava”) Brodsky in 1952, and enjoyed their daily domestic intimacy, for the final three decades of his life Vava could never eclipse the mythic eternal moment that he had created around the memory of his first wife Bella Rosenfeld, or diminish the enduring intensity of his feelings for his lost love, which had become the central vault in the great storehouse of his imagination.