The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
‘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, New York, 1995, p. 136)
A magical realm of blossoming flowers and floating figures, Vase de fleurs et personnages presents one of the most enduring motifs of Marc Chagall’s prolific career: the floral still-life. Yet, unlike his contemporaries—Henri Matisse or Pierre Bonnard, for example—Chagall has not depicted a faithful, objective rendering of this bouquet of blooms, but has instead transformed the visible world into a dreamlike and idyllic fantasy, peopled with otherworldly, airborne figures and resplendent flowers. At the heart of the composition, barely visible amidst the ethereal, misty blue background, stand two figures locked in a tender embrace, oblivious to the luminous, joyous world that surrounds them. Painted in 1928, Vase de fleurs et personnages is one of the first of this great series of floral paintings created while Chagall was happily ensconced in life in Paris. Enveloping the viewer into this blissful world of colour, light and romanticism, this large and captivating painting reflects the artist’s infectious joie de vivre of this period, a time that he later described as the happiest of his life.
Chagall painted Vase de fleurs et personnages while he was living and working in France. After spending years leading a nomadic existence and living under the hardships of Soviet life in Russia, Chagall, together with his wife Bella and their daughter Ida, finally settled in Paris in 1923. The French capital had by this time returned to its vibrant, energetic pre-war state. Quickly falling in with a cosmopolitan, avant-garde circle of friends—the painters Robert and Sonia Delaunay, the dealer Ambroise Vollard, critic Florent Fels, and the poets Ivan and Claire Goll, to name just a few—Chagall became a leading figure within the cultural milieu of the city. At the end of 1926, he signed a contract with the prestigious galerie Bernheim-Jeune, which provided him with financial security for the very first time; the next year, Maurice Raynal awarded him a place in his book Modern French Painters, affirming his leadership role within the École de Paris. "These were good, happy, and busy years," Werner Haftmann has declared. "Chagall was by then a celebrated painter, belonged to society, and fully enjoyed for the first time the festive life of glittering Paris in all its emancipation and elegance. This accord with the festive side of life is reflected in his painting" (W. Haftmann, Marc Chagall, New York, 1998, p. 23).
During his first stay in France from 1910-1914, Chagall had rarely ventured beyond Paris; now, he took every opportunity to travel around the country, keen to immerse himself in nature and in the French countryside; "I want an art of the earth and not merely an art of the head," he explained to Florent Fels (Chagall, quoted in F. Meyer, op. cit., 1964, p. 337). Together, Chagall and his family frequently travelled to the Île-de-France, the land immortalised in the art of Monet and Pissarro, Cézanne, and for a short time, Van Gogh. Relishing the natural beauty of the area and the simplicity of life in the countryside, the Chagalls rented rooms in the small hamlet of Montchauvet, spending time in the company of the Delaunays and Fels. Chagall also began travelling south to the Midi and Côte d’Azur, where he quickly fell under the spell of the intense light and radiant colours of the landscape. "There in the South, for the first time in my life", he recalled, "I came into contact with a flower-filled greenery such as I had never seen in my native city" (Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., op. cit., 1995, p. 172). It was in the south of France that Chagall first began his series of flower paintings. Bella often brought enormous bunches of flowers home from the market for Chagall to paint, their vibrant colours serving the artist as a link with the surrounding countryside.
As Vase de fleurs et personnages demonstrates, the contentment that Chagall felt at this time was reflected in the radiant luminescence, soft painterly style and colour-filled palette that characterises his work of the late 1920s. There is a sense of relief and freedom, and a renewed feeling of optimism and inspiration in these light-infused, jubilantly euphoric paintings. Chagall’s creativity had blossomed, nourished by new surroundings as well as the wealth of artistic inspiration in which he was immersed. Exploring the rich French artistic heritage, Chagall was able to look the past, focusing on the formal aspects of painting. "The atmosphere encompasses and pervades the flowers like a magically light, airy fluid, vibrant with their vitality", Franz Meyer has written. "The flower pieces of this period [1928-1930], as Chagall said later, were des exercices dans la couleur-lumière, which might be translated 'exercises in the equation of colour and light.'" (Meyer, op. cit., 1964, p. 369). In the present work, the entirety of the canvas is filled with a jubilant explosion of colour; the deep red, radiant white, purple and yellow blossoms appear like fireworks, bursting from the picture plane. Painted with a rich impasto,
More than a reference to nature, the landscape and French art, however, flowers also served as a potent symbol of romantic love in Chagall’s work. For Chagall, flowers were the physical manifestation of romance; more specifically, the boundless, blissful love he felt for his wife and great love of his life, Bella Rosenfeld. "Without her inspiration", Chagall declared, "I wouldn’t do any painting" (Chagall, quoted in J. Wullschlager, Chagall: A Biography, New York, 2008, p. 331). Chagall often depicted himself and his wife in an embrace, their bodies serving as a vase out of which a bouquet of flowers blossom. Indeed, in the present work, the intertwined figures at the base of the blooms could be seen as the embodiment of the pair. Seen from afar, they appear like a trunk from which the resplendent array of flowers bursts forth; their euphoric love for one another generating this all-encompassing vision of colour and light. "In [love] lies the true Art", Chagall later explained, "from it comes my technique, my religion... All other things are a sheer waste of energy, waste of means, waste of life, of time... Art, without Love—whether we are ashamed or not to use that well-known word—such a plastic art would open the wrong door" (Chagall, quoted in, J. Baal-Teshuva, op. cit., 1995, p. 179).