The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
With its vivid colours and whimsical, poetic scene of lovers and flowers, Couple au chandelier is the quintessential Marc Chagall painting. The theme of lovers was one that had recurred through his pictures, lending them a sense of romance that was itself informed by his own life, be it in terms of his love for his first wife Bella, whose death resulted in many works in which he projected their ultimate reunion in the afterlife, or for his second wife, Vava. For Chagall, love and beauty were powerful elements, forces that could only bring more harmony to a world that, during his lifetime, appeared in need of it. Explaining his dedication to this cause and his hope that, by devoting himself to it, he would be able to spread those feelings, he said, 'I thought that only love and uncalculating devotion towards others will lead to the greatest harmony in life and in art of which humanity has been dreaming so long. And this must, of course, be included in each utterance, in each brushstroke, and in each colour' (Chagall, quoted in Chagall: A Retrospective, ed. J. Baal-Teshuva, Westport, 1995, p. 208).
True to his word, Chagall treated the theme of young lovers– the affianced pair, the bride and groom, or the newlywed couple, who have abandoned themselves to love and to each other–more frequently than any other subject. There are many variants on this theme, and as befitting the mysteries of human emotion, and so characteristic of Chagall’s marvellously inventive, dream-like pictorial universe, there is rarely a straightforward or clearly logical narrative behind these paintings.
In Couple au chandelier, the radiant young couple embrace in a domestic interior. This powerful connection between the bride and her admirer becomes the central focus of the painting, linking the figures to one another across the canvas. They are framed by flowers – a small vase of pink roses to the right and a large bouquet almost bursting into the composition from the left - acting as a symbol for the abundance and power of their blossoming romance. Chagall often used flowers as a symbol of romantic love in his paintings, incorporating the motif in his compositions in order to evoke the intense feelings of passion and love that absorbed him. The theme of flowers was one to which Chagall returned time and again throughout his career, though his pursuit of the subject became particularly fervent in the mid-1920s. Following a four year residence in Paris from 1910 to 1914, Chagall spent the troubled years of the First World War in his native Russia and returned to work in France in 1923 with a renewed sense of wonder at that country’s natural beauty.
As James Johnson Sweeney has noted, “It was in Toulon in 1924, Chagall recalls, that the charm of French flowers first struck him. He claims that he had not known bouquets of flowers in Russia...He said that when he painted a bouquet it was as if he was painting a landscape. It represented France to him. But the discovery was also a logical one in the light of the change taking place in his vision and pictorial interests. Flowers, especially mixed bouquets of tiny blossoms, other a variety of delicate colour combinations and a fund of texture contrasts which were beginning to hold Chagall’s attention more and more” (Marc Chagall, New York, 1946, p. 56). The flowers of Couple au chandelier have been painted by Chagall with an absolute mastery of the paint surface, seemingly bringing to life each petal of the roses and each leaf of the bouquet on the left. To add to the romance of the flowers – and suggest that perhaps the couple, he in a dark suit, and she in a bright yellow dress, are newlyweds - the woman also has flowers in her hair.
The great love of Chagall’s own life was his first wife Bella Rosenfeld, like himself a native of Vitebsk in Belarus, whom he wed in 1915; it was a devastating blow to the artist when Bella died unexpectedly in 1944, during the couple’s wartime exile in the United States. He married again in 1952, two years before painting Couple au chandelier, this time to Valentine (“Vava”) Brodsky, after a courtship that lasted only a few months. It has been written that even after her death, whenever he painted a bride it was Bella” (Marc Chagall, A Biography, New York, 1978, p. 82). However, the modern dress of the female figure in Couple au chandelier - as opposed to the typical white dress of depictions of Bella - and the domestic flower-filled setting, suggests that this may be a depiction of Chagall’s love for his new bride Vava and a celebration of their domestic bliss.