The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
‘If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.’
(Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 1995, p. 16)
Painted in 1975, Le violoniste sous la lune dates from one of the most prolific periods in Marc Chagall’s career, at a time when he was considered to be one of the greatest living artists in the world. The stability and contentment he felt in his personal life, combined with recent experiments in a diverse array of media including mosaic and stained glass, had inspired a renewed impetus in the artist’s painting, and drove him to revisit some of the highly personal themes which had occupied his art for decades. For Chagall, painting had always been a medium through which to express the internal world of his imagination, recording his memories, passions and emotions on canvas in a fantastical, anti-rational manner. Le violoniste sous la lune continues this tradition, expressing the happiness and contentment that the artist felt living in the South of France with his second wife, Valentina Brodsky.
Chagall had become enchanted by the landscape of the Côte d’Azur in the early 1950s, when the impact of the sky, sea and flora had convinced him that he should move there for the benefit of his art. The French Riviera had become a thriving artistic centre following the Second World War, with several artists, including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, settling there. Chagall based himself in the small medieval town of Saint-Paul de Vence, a few kilometres north of Nice, where he bought a property called ‘Les Collines’. Inspired by the light, atmosphere, and verdant gardens which surrounded the house, Chagall spent his days engrossed in creating joyous new artworks. Indeed, Saint-Paul de Vence appears to be directly referenced by Chagall in Le violoniste sous la lune, as the distinctive silhouette of its fourteenth century Tour de la Fondule stands prominently in the outline of a settlement to the right of the central figure of the violinist.
At the time Le violoniste sous la lune was conceived, Chagall was enjoying a prolonged period of marital bliss with his second wife Valentina, or Vava, as the artist called her. His daughter, Ida, had first introduced the pair in 1952 and, following a short romance, Chagall and Vava were married that summer. The sense of stability and peace the artist felt with Vava translated directly into his art, and during the three decades they spent together, she was a regular source of inspiration for him. Le violoniste sous la lune can be seen to be a direct celebration of their love, with the artist’s focus on the theme of romance clearly embodied in the central figure of the violinist and the female nude reclining at his feet. The intensity of the violinist’s adoring gaze, as he lovingly serenades his female companion by the light of the moon, conveys the depth of his feelings for her. The connection between the two characters, who may be read as a symbolic self-portrait of Chagall and Vava, is emphasised in their physical union, as the fusion of their forms leaves the distinction between one body and the next unclear. The sensuous curve of the conjoined lovers is echoed by the tree in the upper right hand corner of the composition, whose blossoming branches appear in an explosion of colour. Chagall often used flowers as a symbol of romantic love in his paintings, and their inclusion in Le violiniste sous la lune is an indication of Chagall’s feelings of love and happiness at this time.
The violinist was a recurring figure in Chagall’s art, rooted in his Hasidic Jewish upbringing in Russia where music was an integral component in local religious processions, feast days, community celebrations and weddings. Chagall associated the character with joy, happiness and celebration, and the violinist gradually became an emblematic motif in his art. Indeed, Le violoniste sous la lune features several symbolic motifs which recur across the artist’s oeuvre. The red rooster suspended in mid-air, for example, was often used as a reference to the artist’s rural upbringing in the Russian town of Vitebsk, as well as acting as a symbol of virility and primordial nature. The elegant green horse situated in the left hand foreground of the painting, as well as the small yellow calf at the base of the tree, similarly act as multi-faceted symbols which the artist used in different compositions to create personal narratives of varying complexity. Discussing his use of these symbolic leitmotifs, Chagall compared himself to a writer, explaining: ‘Poets always use the same letters, but out of them they constantly recreate different words’ (Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall: 1887 – 1985, Cologne & New York, 1998, p. 269). Chagall’s imagination and artistic skills ensured that the recurrence of these motifs was never repetitive, and instead offered something new and unique in each composition.
Le violoniste sous la lune demonstrates Chagall’s masterful use of colour, as the surface of the canvas comes alive with the artist’s use of vibrant primary paint. Chagall believed colour to be ‘the pulse of a work of art’ (Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, op. cit., p. 180), and his bold approach to this element became one of the central features of his work from Saint-Paul de Vence. In Le violoniste sous la lune the intensity of the red, green, yellow and violet hues give the composition a new energy and sense of life, while the depth of these colours are enhanced by the artist’s subtle layering of paint, as can be seen in the delicate pattern of the violinist’s overcoat and the plumage of the cockerel. The handling of paint, meanwhile, is light and loose, with soft, free brushwork visible across the canvas. This enhances the dreamlike quality of the scene, as the figures appear to emerge from the mist, indicating their place as figments of the artist’s imagination. By emphasising the ethereal and surreal nature of the scene, Chagall underlines the mystery and drama of his painting. In its dreamlike atmosphere and fusion of elements from his past and present, Chagall’s Le violoniste sous la lune captures the artist’s emotional connection to his wife, his home, and his past in a striking and captivating imaginative composition.