Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Les Arums

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Les Arums
signed and dated 'Marc Chagall 949' (lower right)
gouache, oil pastels and brush and India ink on paper
30 ¾ x 23 in. (78.1 x 58.4 cm.)
Executed in 1949
Berggruen et Cie., Paris.
Mrs. Edward J. Hudson, Houston (by 1964).
Private collection (April 1974); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 16 November 1989, lot 241.
Private collection, Europe (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 13 May 1997, lot 62.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 17 November 1998, lot 447.
Private collection, United States (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, New York, 5 May 2010, lot 214.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, New York, 1964, p. 759, no. 809 (illustrated, pl. 809).
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Derrière le Miroir, March-April 1950, no. 17.
Nassau County Museum of Art, Marc Chagall, July-November 2012.

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Chagall often embellished the corners or edges of his floral still-lifes with people and fantastic creatures that are actually key to the import of the larger composition. The lovers embracing in an open boat at lower left in the present gouache are an excellent case in point. Although these figures inhabit a corner only, the great upward thrust of white arums appears to emanate from them, as if these blossoms were the ecstatic expression of their love and joy. Young lovers are the most frequent subject in Chagall’s paintings; they epitomized for the artist the life of emotions in human nature. Also present here is an oddly beaked fish, the marine counterpart to Chagall’s oft appearing rooster, his totemic representation of primitive nature, the life force. Fish, flowers and the lovers in their boat are all awash in a deep blue and green sea; or is it the night sky?–a crescent moon hovers along the upper right edge. A man and a woman journey on the sea of their love, while tender is the night that embraces them, starry with arums and roses!
In 1948 Chagall returned to France from his wartime exile in America and moved into a house in Orgeval, near Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a short drive from Paris. Four years before, his beloved wife Bella died in a New York hospital from the complications of a viral infection. He now had a new family–a year after Bella’s passing, Chagall met Virginia Haggard McNeil, an unhappily married woman twenty-eight years his junior. They fell in love. She became pregnant, and their son David was born on 22 June 1946, but they never married. After only a few months in Orgeval, in January 1949, Chagall and his family headed south to the Mediterranean, at the suggestion of the Greek-born printer and publisher Tériade. Chagall took rooms in a pension de famille and later rented a house for a four-month stay in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a small town on the Mediterranean coast. Tériade lived nearby; he constantly regaled Chagall and his companion with local wines and delicacies.
Chagall and Virginia had a glorious time in St. Jean. They are the seaborne lovers–she with her tell-tale bangs cut short across her forehead–in the present gouache. This image became a significant motif in the lithographs Chagall created to illustrate Daphis and Chloe, the second century romance by Longus, which Tériade published in 1961 (Cramer, no. 46).
The artist, moreover, could often be found hard at work. “Marc excitedly brought out his gouaches and his large sheets of pure chiffon paper. It was fun to have him working right in our bedroom, spreading his paintings out on the white cotton bedspread,” Virginia wrote. “An explosion of new ideas was suddenly released at the sight of the Mediterranean... His store of ‘Chagall’ material was jolted and injected with new substance, producing a series of variations around a theme...the sea, the boats and flowers of St. Jean tumbled out in exuberant succession. He never worked his gouaches so richly. He invented a mixture of media, obtaining depth and luster by adding touches of oil pastel, and playing with the antagonistic elements of oil and water to produce unexpected textures” (My Life with Chagall, New York, 1986, pp. 89-90).
As had Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, and Bonnard before him, Chagall found the Mediterranean an irresistibly congenial and stimulating environment in which to live and work. In 1950 he purchased Les Collines, a hillside house with surrounding property in Vence, and made it his permanent home, thereafter spending only short spells in Paris. He married Valentine (called “Vava”) Brodsky in 1952; in 1965 the couple moved to nearby St. Paul, where the artist lived out the extended and astonishingly productive autumn of his long career.

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