MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
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MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)

Fleurs et fruits

MARC CHAGALL (1887-1985)
Fleurs et fruits
signed and dated 'Chagall Marc 1949' (lower left)
oil pastel, gouache and brush and India ink on paper laid down on board
31 1⁄8 x 22 ½ in. (79 x 57 cm.)
Executed in 1949
Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne, by whom acquired directly from the artist in 1949.
Baron Eduard von der Heydt, Switzerland, by whom acquired from the above in 1949.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired in the late 1960s, and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby’s, London, 22 June 2017, lot 337.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Lucerne, Galerie Rosengart, Marc Chagall, July - October 1949, no. 25 (with inverted dimensions).
Further Details
The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Lot Essay

Fleurs et fruits, executed by Marc Chagall in 1949, is a true expression of life: all elements of the present work seem to point towards abundance and the plentiful. At the centre of the composition stands an explosive bouquet of flowers – an arrangement of cheerful yellow mimosas and gentle blush pink roses, set within an elegant ensemble of foliage in varying shades of green. The floral body – vigorous, suggestive – expands beyond the frame of the composition, almost implying that the surface of the work is in fact unable to contain so much life. Above the colourful flowers we find a pair of lovers, flying in the night sky over the sea, while two boats, at opposite corners of the composition, sail under the glimmering moon. Beneath the bouquet, a whimsically iridescent fish anchors the composition alongside a bowl of grapes and lemons, and the whole scene is bathed in Chagall’s iconic blue.

Fleurs et fruits follows one of the most tumultuous periods in the life of Chagall, and marks a crucial shift in his art. In 1948, after taking refuge in the United States during the Second World War, the artist settled in Vence, in the bright south of France. This period of exile was marked by the sudden death of his wife Bella in New York City in 1944, aged just forty-nine. Bella (pictured above with Chagall), had been his constant companion and inspiration for thirty years. Once Chagall was able to return to painting following this tragic blow, something in his art had fundamentally shifted.

Begun in 1934, Bouquet de fleurs aux amoureux (Tate, London), compositionally akin to Fleurs et fruits, was one of the works which Chagall took with him into his American exile. In its original state, the work showed the two lovers, static, standing behind a bouquet of flowers. Revisiting this work after Bella’s death, Chagall liberated the composition: instead of walls, he transported the scene into the infinite night sky, where the lovers no longer stand still, confined to their earthly realm, but fly away together, into eternity. Replacing their terrestrial reality by a celestial immortality, Chagall reunites himself with Bella in a manner he would continue to explore throughout his storied oeuvre.

As with Bouquet de fleurs aux amoureux, the present work incorporates the motif of sailing boats, and indeed the symbolism of sailing and the sea holds significance within the context of the artist’s transformation. The tiny boats in Fleurs et fruits bravely sail across the dark sea, just as Chagall had to cross the ocean, both literally and metaphorically, in his life before and after the war – before and after the loss of Bella.

Read in this way, Fleurs et fruits can be seen as a prelude to Chagall’s new life, set in the context of the lush Mediterranean. In his studio in Vence the artist committed to adopting the rich vocabulary of his lush surroundings while continually incorporating the wistful symbols of love that remained so central to his inner being.

It was indeed after he moved to the south of France that Chagall’s perspectives broadened, as the light of the Mediterranean permeated his life. Unsurprisingly, it was also at this time that the artist became interested in working in new formats, ‘spurred on by what Matisse was doing for the Rosary Chapel [in Vence]’ (S. Forestier, Chagall, The Stained Glass Windows, Milan, 2016, p. 11). In 1956, the artist was commissioned to work on the windows of the cathedrals of Metz and Reims, which had been destroyed during the war.

It is poignant that the last medium that truly marked Chagall was one so deeply connected to faith. Indeed, the abundance of life, so deeply redolent in his later work can be seen as the fruit of that first fearless voyage towards a new harbour. In this way, the boats in Fleurs et fruits, which metaphorically sail to a hopeful future, chart the artist’s eventual course towards what would become the full and final flourishing of a man who chose life – who very literally would come to paint with light.

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