The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Painted from 1959 to 1960, Bouquet près de la fenêtre presents, on a large-scale, the themes that dominated Marc Chagall’s painting throughout his career: love, romance, memory and nostalgia. Franz Meyer, in his definitive biography and catalogue raisonné of the artist, described Bouquet près de la fenêtre as one of the finest flower paintings of this period (F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, p. 594). From an expansive mirage of iridescent blue, a blossoming bouquet appears to erupt from the composition, a bright explosion of colour, next to which an open window presents a view of verdant vegetation and a floating green rooster, while an entwined couple floats below. At the bottom of the scene stretches a vista of St-Paul-de-Vence, the ancient hillside Provençal town near to where Chagall was living. Filled with light and colour, Bouquet près de la fenêtre reflects the peaceful Mediterranean idyll that was Chagall’s life at this time.
Chagall had first introduced floral still-lifes in his painting in the mid-1920s. Having returned to France from his native Russia in 1923, the artist developed a new feeling for nature, and was particularly enchanted by flowers, finding them to be the embodiment of the French landscape. From this time onwards, vases or bunches of flowers took a greater prominence in Chagall’s work, often appearing as the central subject of a painting. The Greek writer and publisher Tériade, who published many of Chagall’s etchings, wrote in 1926, ‘To see the world through bouquets! Huge, monstrous bouquets in ringing profusion, haunting brilliance. Were we to see [Chagall] only through these abundances gathered at random from gardens… and naturally balanced, we could wish for no more precious joy!’ (E. Tériade, ‘Chagall and Romantic Painting’, in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, Connecticut, 1995, p. 136). Chagall called his flower paintings of this period, ‘exercises in the equation of colour and light’ (Chagall, quoted in F. Meyer, op. cit., p. 369), and his depiction of blossoming bouquets remained central to his experimentations with colour, a demonstration of his great skill as a colourist. In Bouquet près de la fenêtre the vase overflows with an array of resplendent flowers, their vibrantly coloured petals painted with impastoed daubs and dots of paint; an effervescent burst of colour and texture.
More than a reference to nature and the French landscape, however, flowers also served as a potent symbol of romantic love in Chagall’s work; a visual embodiment of the joyous and blissful romance he felt for his first wife and great love of his life, Bella Rosenfeld, and latterly, his second wife, Valentina Brodsky. The artist often portrayed Bella alongside a profusion of flowers, conveying his love for her in the bounteous and plentiful blossoms that adorned his canvases.
At the time Bouquet près de la fenêtre was painted, the artist was married to his second wife, Valentina or ‘Vava’, as Chagall called her. In 1944, while exiled in America for the duration of the Second World War, Chagall’s beloved Bella had died of an infection. He soon met Virginia McNeil, with whom the artist spent 7 years. Their relationship ended abruptly, however, and in 1952, Chagall met Vava. The couple married just a few months after meeting, in the same year. This new love provided Chagall with much longed for stability and happiness for the rest of his life. The bold proliferation of flowers in Bouquet près de la fenêtre reflects this sense of contentment, a jubilant display of the joyous love he felt with Vava. The memory of Bella however, never left Chagall, and she continued to appear in his paintings as a floating apparition; in Bouquet près de la fenêtre, she appears as a bride adorned in white, a nostalgic depiction of his past love. Chagall reminisced of Bella in his autobiography in 1947, ‘I had only to open my bedroom window, and blue air, love, and flowers entered with [Bella]. Dressed all in white or all in black, she has long been flying over my canvases, guiding my art’ (M. Chagall, trans. P. Owen, My Life, London, 1957, p. 121).
Chagall painted Bouquet près de la fenêtre while living in the sun-drenched south of France. The radiant blue that engulfs the painting reflects the luminous Mediterranean light of the south, filling the composition with a vibrancy and iridescence. After the Second World War, the French Riviera emerged as a thriving artistic centre, inhabited by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, with whom Chagall became good friends. Indeed, the motif of the open window that can be seen in Bouquet près de la fenêtre is not only a feature that Chagall had used in some of his very first paintings of Paris, but also directly relates to a strand of French modernism, particularly to Matisse’s vividly coloured compositions that depicted richly decorative interior scenes with an open window and vista of the sparkling Côte d’Azur beyond.
Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s lover of the time, recalled that the Spanish artist once remarked, ‘When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter 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 light that Chagall has’ (Picasso, quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 282). The suffusion of blue across Bouquet près de la fenêtre serves to unite the various components of the painting. As Franz Meyer commented, ‘In [Bouquet près de la fenêtre] one can realize how the juxtaposition of totally different motifs provided the inspiration for a unity based on the spatial order of the colour’ (F. Meyer, op. cit., p. 594). Arranged like fragments of a dream, the various motifs of Bouquet près de la fenêtre appear as figments of Chagall’s imagination, memories from the artist’s past, and images of his present life, creating a new, fantastical reality.