With its dreamlike atmosphere and deep, sonorous blue palette, Les fiancés aux anémones is a powerful illustration of the whimsical character of Marc Chagall’s unique artistic vision during the late stages of his career, as he revisited some of his favourite subjects and leitmotifs from a position of great happiness and contentment. At this time, the artist was enjoying a halcyon existence in the South of France with his second wife, Vava, revelling in the brilliant sunshine, vibrant colours and luscious vegetation the Midi had to offer. 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. Basing himself in the small medieval town of Saint-Paul de Vence, a few kilometres north of Nice, Chagall spent his days engrossed in creating joyous new artworks, inspired by the light, atmosphere, and verdant gardens which surrounded his house, known as ‘Les Collines.’ Indeed, Saint-Paul de Vence appears to be directly referenced by the artist in Les fiancés aux anémones, as the distinctive silhouette of its fourteenth century Tour de la Fondule stands prominently in the outline of the hill-top town to the left of the embracing lovers.
In life, just as on the artist’s palette, there is but one single colour that gives meaning to life and art – the colour of love”
Painted during a period of intense reflection and retrospection for the artist, Les fiancés aux anémones portrays an entrancing vision of a world of ecstatic dream and romance, marrying an everyday scene from his life in Saint-Paul de Vence with memories of his past love, Bella. The painting is dominated by a pair of lovers, who float above a typical luncheon tableaux, their semi-translucent bodies appearing to spring from the bouquet of colourful anemones at the centre of the table. While the theme of embracing lovers surrounded by colourful bouquets of flowers is one which Chagall had consistently explored since the 1920s, the artist likely drew inspiration for these blossoms straight from life, as bouquets of freshly cut flowers were brought daily to his studio during these years, filling the space with their vibrant colours and heady scent. The cut-flowers are mirrored by the sprawling, brightly-hued wild blooms that grow nearby, which seem to fill the landscape with their verdant growth.
A painting must blossom like something alive. It must seize something unseizable and unclear: the allure and the profound meaning of what concerns you”
Rendered with a delicate touch and myriad hues, the flowers have a bright, effervescent immediacy that contrasts with the all-pervasive blue tonality of the background. For Chagall, there was an intrinsic connection between such rich, sprawling displays of different blossoms and the intense feelings of love. ‘The conjunction is one that particularly appealed to Chagall, a bouquet of cut flowers being the archetypal gift for a lover to bring,’ Susan Compton has written. ‘Yet cut flowers are ephemeral: through man’s artifice their beauty is arranged momentarily. So in these themes the artist reminds us of the impermanence as well as the ecstasy of human love’ (S. Compton, Chagall, exh. cat., London, 1985, p. 212). Indeed, it is the presence of the flowers which appear to have conjured the figures of the affianced pair, which may be seen as a nostalgic portrait of the artist and his first wife, Bella Rosenfeld, in their youth, ensconced in a bubble of hope and love as they embarked upon their life together.
Chagall had first met Bella in his hometown of Vitebsk in 1909, and claimed to have fallen in love with her immediately. Recalling their initial encounter in his autobiography, My Life, the artist revealed the intense emotions he felt upon seeing her for the first time: ‘Her silence is mine. Her eyes mine. I feel she has known me always, my childhood, my present life, my future; as if she were watching over me, divining my innermost being... I knew this is she, my wife...’ (My Life, London, 2013, p. 77). Bella became his eternal muse, her presence infiltrating all aspects of his creative output, and Chagall’s adoration for her grew even greater following her untimely death in 1944. In the present painting, created more than a quarter-century after Bella’s death, Chagall draws on his memories as he and his beloved are reunited in the South of France, their vaporous forms nestled amongst the heady blossoms of late spring. The artist heightens the dream-like atmosphere of the image even further by introducing a series of secondary characters to the scene, who similarly appear to be suspended in mid-air, scattered across the sky. However, it is the figures of Chagall and Bella which remain the strongest presence, their monumental forms a testament to the importance of memory in the artist’s work at this time.
Lot Essay Header Image: The present lot illustrated (detail).