The central characters in many of Chagall's paintings are lovers or newlyweds, people caught up in the early excitement of love, who have abandoned themselves to love, and have completely surrendered themselves unto each other. For Chagall and his first wife Bella, who were married in 1915 and lived together for almost three decades, this experience of love took a shared intensity that appeared to never falter or fade.
Chagall was devasted when Bella suffered an early and unnecessary death from a viral infection in 1944, while they were living in upstate New York during the Second World War. Penicillin could have saved her, but this new drug had been set aside solely for military use. Chagall's adoration for Bella grew even greater following her passing, and he continued to celebrate her impact on his life in his paintings. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he had an extended liaison with Virginia Haggard McNeil and fathered a son by her. In 1952, he married Valentine ("Vava") Brodsky, after a courtship that lasted only a few months. The pleasant reality of daily domestic intimacy, however, could never upstage the power of the mythic eternal moment that Chagall had created around the memory of Bella, or diminish those feelings now permanently fixed within the artist's mind, the central vault in the great storehouse of his boundless imagination.
In the present painting, two lovers lie in bed side by side, surrounded by a host of Chagall’s mythical creatures and recurring icons—a glorious oversized red bouquet, a violinist, an angel, roosters, and a flutist. As Sidney Alexander has written: 'Chagall and Bella remained lovers, though married; monogamous but not monotonous; lovers to the end, in a story so felicitous as to offer little drama to the biographer or novelist. Out of this domestic Eden, lived and remembered, poured an endless series of painted epithalamia' (Marc Chagall: A Biography, New York, 1978, p. 82).
Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).
I kiss her.
A still life magically takes shape in my mind.
She poses for me.
Reclining, a rounded white nude takes shape.
I approach her timidly. I confess it was the first time I had seen a nude.
Although she was practically my fiancée I was still afraid of approaching her, of going any nearer, of touching all that loveliness.
As if a feast were spread before your eyes”