The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
"If I were not a Jew, I wouldn't have been an artist," Chagall once proclaimed, "or I would have been a different artist altogether" (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 170). From his earliest work onward, the artist included subjects drawn from Jewish culture and folklore, evoking the atmosphere in which he was raised in the Russian town of Vitebsk. During the 1950s and 1960s—after Vitebsk had been nearly completely destroyed in the Second World War, Chagall returned, even more insistently, to the legacy of his shtetl upbringing.
In the present work, the viewer is invited to discover Chagall’s birthplace, drawn into the composition by the rooftops of the village, which recede into the distance. Chagall does not ask us to view his home from the street, as he did in his earlier works, but from above, in the realm of fantasy and memory, where he has permeated the sky with vignettes which are evocative of his Jewish heritage. The bust in profile of a red donkey rises majestically over the roofs. The figure of the donkey had appeared from the outset in Chagall’s work. Throughout his oeuvre, the animal would be used as a signifier of his past, specifically his provincial upbringing in Vitebsk. It is therefore fitting that the donkey is given such prominence in the present composition. Behind the donkey, three candles burn on a candlestick, referencing his 1939 painting Les trois cierges, while further in the distance a crowd of villagers is seen walking away from a Crucifix. The wandering group is led by a woman clutching a baby, her head bent down in a solemn yet protective embrace around her child, and a man clutching the Torah. The Bible had served as artistic inspiration for Chagall throughout his life, particularly during the Second World War when he painted a number of scenes of the crucifixion, the figure of Christ representing the suffering of the Jews and of people across Europe. On the left of the composition, a bride and groom lock eyes and hands in a gentle embrace, a symbol of Chagall’s love for his first wife, Bella, who was also a native of Vitebsk. Above them, a local fiddler plays the violin, another visual signifier for Chagall’s village upbringing which permeated his oeuvre. Above the figures, a triumphant angel swoops down, sounding a trumpet.
In this fantastical depiction of his beloved hometown, Chagall amalgamates several of his leading themes—love, religion, memory and fantasy—into one canvas. In discussing his work, he stated, “every painter is born somewhere. And even though he may later return to the influences of other atmospheres, a certain essence—a certain ‘aroma’—of his birthplace clings to his work…The vital mark these early influences leave is, as it were, on the handwriting of the artist” (quoted in B. Hashaw, ed., Marc Chagall on Art and Culture, Stanford, 2003, p. 83).