"As a rule, the artist cannot see himself," Chagall reflected, late in life. "Perhaps age gives him the possibility to do so. With age you see your own life. One looks inside as if it were outside, one paints one's inside as if it were a still life" (quoted in P. Schneider, Marc Chagall: Paintings and Temperas, 1975-1978, exh. cat., New York, 1979, n.p.). Such mindful introspection permeates the lush serenity of La ferme, a painting that Susan Compton has deemed "an unusually vivid and considered reminder of life in the countryside" among Chagall's later oil paintings (in Chagall, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1985, p. 227). In this image of ripe abundance and fertility, Chagall has lovingly reconstructed an autobiographical still life, piecing together symbolic images drawn first from his childhood in Vitebsk and subsequently enriched and reconstituted over a lifetime flush in love and artistic renewal.
Here, in a bucolic scene illuminated by the diffused glow of the moon, Chagall depicts a peasant woman, "as appropriate to rural southern France as to the backyards of the artist's childhood holidays in Lyozno," Compton notes, coming to tend the golden cow, a dazzlingly luminous presence in the farmyard (in ibid., p. 227). Along with the white cock, the cow held a sacred place within Chagall's barnyard menagerie as a vital source of sustenance and a powerful metaphor for life. According to Compton, Chagall's cow bears an additional association "with the woman in the hierarchy of female symbols, signified here by the green moon which hovers overhead." The complementary "cockerel, that masculine sign which also stands for the sun," brushes against the cow, just as a barely-outlined masculine profile bends toward the peasant woman above (in ibid., p. 228). This cosmic masculine-feminine duality, a recurrent theme in Chagall's work, is further suggested by the presence of a Tree of Life, a Biblical symbol of immortality, and the basin of water, an ancient symbol of fertility and female divinity. The aggregation of these life-affirming motifs in La Ferme becomes, finally, a metaphor for Chagall's own, by now septuagenarian life. In the illumination and retrospection of old age, the artist freely celebrated the inimitable flux of creation that had long inspired his artistic life and the folkloric images that had come to resonate with broad, universal significance.
"All of our internal world is reality," Chagall lately ruminated, "perhaps even more real than the world of appearances" (quoted in Marc Chagall, exh. cat., Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 1959, p. 348). The marvelous fecundity of Chagall's internal reality is delightfully manifest in his painting, yet in his poetry he suggests that the intimacy of his innermost life--of his soul--belongs to him alone. "Mine alone Is the country in my soul," Chagall wrote, "I enter with no passport Like going home" (in Marc Chagall: Works from the Collections of the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou, Paris, exh. cat., The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1988, p. 16).