The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel is one of Marc Chagall’s most romantic paintings of the 1920s, celebrating the love between the artist and his wife, Bella, as they entered a new phase of security and contentment in their lives. Painted in 1928, the work features a double portrait of the couple as they tenderly embrace one another in the shadow of the iconic Eiffel Tower. An angelic figure bearing the features of their daughter, Ida, floats through an open window to their left, arm outstretched as she delivers an offering of a bouquet of flowers to the pair. Around the figures, a panoramic view of Paris reveals the gaiety of the city in the 1920s, with detailed representations of circus performers, lovers strolling through the city, and tiny cars featured against a vibrant vermillion ground. Above this scene, two youthful trees stretch horizontally across a multi-coloured sky, their foliage delicately rendered in varying shades of green. Captured in a burst of dazzling, vivid colour, these elements combine to create a composition which celebrates and reflects the happiness that the Chagalls found in their new life in the city, and the intense love the artist felt for the two most important people in his life at this time.
After almost a decade of hardship, Chagall and his family settled in the French capital in 1923, leaving behind them the uncertainty of the previous years, which had seen them move more than a dozen times since the start of their marriage. Living in a series of run-down communal flats and tiny damp rooms, the trio had been forced to repeatedly relocate from city to city, starting over each time they moved. Paris heralded an end to this upheaval, and soon became a safe haven for the family, offering them a home and a sense of comfort after years of struggle. They also entered a new period of financial security at this time, as Chagall’s commercial success gradually increased. This was further enhanced when the artist secured a contract with the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in 1926, giving him a steady income for the first time in his life. Speaking to his son-in-law, the art historian Franz Meyer, in the 1960s, Chagall revealed that the time the family spent in Paris in the 1920s were among the happiest years of his life. Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel captures a sense of this happiness, and allows the artist to focus on the intense and powerful love he felt for his wife Bella.
At the heart of the composition are the figures of Bella and Chagall, the married couple of the title, who tenderly embrace one another and gaze blissfully out at the viewer. The painting is a celebration of the intense love they felt one for one another, and their growing relationship during this period. Chagall had met Bella in his hometown of Vitebsk in 1909, and claims to have fallen in love with her immediately. Recalling their initial encounter in his autobiography, My Life, the artist reveals 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...’ (Chagall, My Life, London, 2013, p. 77). The couple were engaged before the year’s end, and Bella quickly became a muse for the artist, appearing as the central subject of a number of Chagall’s large-scale paintings. Their love affair endured throughout the years Chagall spent studying in Paris before the war, thanks to the exchange of regular correspondence, often filled with passionate declarations of love. They eventually married in 1915, shortly after the artist’s return to Russia, and Ida was born the following year. From this time, romance became a central theme in Chagall’s artistic output, often represented by the presence of two lovers, or the figures of the bride and groom.
The prominence of love and romance in his art only came to increase as the years passed, reflecting the artist’s deeply held conviction that his love for Bella was an eternal, endless force. By 1928, their relationship had reached new strengths, based on their mutual passion and respect for one another. Unburdened by financial strain and the turmoil of constant separation and relocation, their love blossomed in Paris. Chagall idolised his wife, and she in turn, completely devoted herself to her husband’s artistic genius, not only modelling for him whenever he required her to, but also taking it upon herself to manage his business affairs and promote his public image. The artist came to see Ida, meanwhile, as the physical embodiment of their love, a little angel who enhanced their life with her easy, joyful manner. By portraying himself, his wife, and his daughter in the three principle roles in Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel, Chagall emphasises the strength of their family bond, and celebrates the close relationship the three of them enjoyed during the later years of the 1920s.
In many ways, Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel recalls the 1913 composition Paris par la fenêtre, which Chagall believed had been lost during the war years (he later rediscovered it in the collection of Solomon Guggenheim, where it remains to this day). The artist had been devastated by a series of events which resulted in the loss of much of his early oeuvre. To Chagall, these highly personal works were like chapters in a diary of his life, and their disappearance caused him great distress. In response to these losses, the artist took it upon himself to recreate several of the compositions which had either been sold without his consent or destroyed in Berlin and Paris during the First World War. In some cases, this resulted in the creation of an almost exact replica of the original artwork, while others feature similar themes in a slightly altered format. Revisiting them in this way allowed Chagall to reconnect with these lost works, and restore the visual memories they once recorded.
While it is clearly influenced by the 1913 painting, Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel moves decidedly away from the earlier work to create a completely new composition, introducing new themes and subjects directly inspired by Chagall’s life in Paris in the late 1920s. The two paintings share a number of similarities in their compositional layout, with both featuring the sharp peak of the Eiffel Tower prominently on the right hand side of the canvas, and the outline of a window pane to the left. The vibrant happenings of life in Paris are similarly detailed in a fictional open space between the window and the edges of the cityscape in the distance, while a vibrant colour palette is used in both works. However, the mood of the 1928 work could not be more different to that of the earlier painting. In the 1913 composition, the artist creates a double-headed self-portrait, presenting himself as a Janus-like character, simultaneously looking forwards and backwards. This figure represents the artist’s psychological turmoil during this period of his life, as he was torn between the vibrancy and excitement of Paris and his life in Vitebsk, where his beloved Bella remained without him. In contrast, Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel effusively expresses the joy and contentment the artist found in the city upon his return, and the peace and newfound harmony of his life there. Released from the internal struggles which had tormented him fifteen years before, Chagall was now free to revel in the vibrant and buzzing metropolis of Paris, with his family at his side.
The artist’s renewed happiness is reflected in his choice of colours for the present composition. Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel is filled with vivid, radiant hues, with the artist achieving a complex interplay of colours across the canvas. Introducing sparkling shades of violet, green, mauve, blue, red and yellow to the composition, Chagall allows his colours to reach new levels of intensity, adding a vibrancy and energy to the painting. The motif of the open window, meanwhile, was first introduced in Paris par la fenêtre and features prominently in Chagall’s paintings during the 1920s and 1930s. This device creates a clear partition between the foreground and the background of the picture, separating the grandeur of the landscape from the intimate connection of the lovers. Framing the cityscape in Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel, the window acts as a fluid boundary between the interior and exterior world, connecting the figures to the magical view the artist creates of Paris. The angel Ida swoops through the window pane, bridging the gap between the two realms, bearing a symbol of romantic love in the bouquet of flowers she proffers to the lovers. At its heart, Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel is a painting about love, happiness and contentment. Executed during a period of professional prosperity and personal comfort, the painting celebrates the strength of the familial bond between Chagall, his wife and their daughter, and the joy they felt together, as a family, in the pulsating and dynamic city of Paris in the twenties.