The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The years after Chagall settled into the halcyon rhythms of life in southern France were, in his words, "a bouquet of roses" (quoted in S. Alexander, Marc Chagall, A Biography, New York, 1978, p. 492). By the late 1970s, the garlands of success made a fitting capstone to a long career scarred by more than his share of suffering, from the sudden death of his first love, Bella, to the long years of privation and exile and the painful awareness of the Holocaust. Reluctantly embracing the mantle of the "Wandering Jew," Chagall had planted roots in Russia, America and finally, and most enduringly, in France; and he returned, in the retrospection of his old age, to the compendium of images compiled over years of cosmopolitan life. In a career marked by often enormous change, the constancy of his source material never wavered, and the story told by Autour du peintre--the shtetl at left, farm animals at right and, of course, artist and easel, with Christ depicted on the focal canvas at center--is in many ways the autobiographical evocation of the passage of time of ninety years of creative life.
In the spirited enthusiasm of his return to Europe after the Second World War, Chagall imbued his imagery with the symbols of Paris, the city he anointed his "second Vitebsk." There had been a "loosening of his real affiliation and loyalty by the destruction of his home town during the war," Benjamin Harshav has noted, for Chagall "did not feel bound to the rebuilt town by the same positive tie. Now it was only the Vitebsk of his memory that really existed for Chagall" (Marc Chagall and His Times, A Documentary Narrative, Stanford, 2004, p. 529). Yet in the passage of time, his thoughts turned increasingly to the more distant past and his origins in Russia, as he cycled back over his personal history, which he kept commemoratively alive in his painting.
Over eleven days in June 1973, the mythic Vitebsk of Chagall's memory was infused with an emotional dose of Soviet reality when he returned to his homeland for the first time since 1922. He traveled through Moscow and Leningrad at the official invitation of the Soviet state, on the rare occasion of the exhibition by the Tretyakov State Gallery of all his works in their collection. Chagall had left fifty-one years earlier, unappreciated and at aesthetic odds with the socialist state; at the time he wrote in his autobiography, "Neither Imperial Russia nor Soviet Russia needs me. I am a mystery, a stranger, to them" (My Life, London, 2003 , p. 170). Fêted on his return, however, Chagall celebrated reunions with long-lost paintings, weeping at the sight of The Wedding from 1918; when a voice from the crowd asked whether he remembered these paintings well, he answered softly, "More than you can imagine" (quoted in "Chagall, in Soviet, Weeps on Seeing his Early Art," The New York Times, 5 June 1973, p. 41). He was reunited with his sisters, whom he had not seen since he left for Paris, but as reported by a journalist, he "did not return to Vitebsk, whose wooden houses, round-steepled churches, Hasidim, soldiers and barnyard animals still fill so important a place in Chagall's paintings, a half century after Chagall last saw it. 'Even the gravestones are no longer standing since the war,' Chagall said. 'If the graves were still there I would have gone. They tell me a corner of our house is still standing, but could I have stepped inside? Could you?'" (quoted in H. Kamm, "Emotional Return to Russia Buoys Chagall," The New York Times, 17 June 1973, p. 1).
In a letter to his friend and frequent correspondent Abraham Sutkever, a Yiddish poet, Chagall meditated, "Now I imagine that even when I go back I go forward, a wind broken into shattered thunder... Only that land is mine which is found in my soul" (quoted in S. Alexander, op. cit., p. 467). That Russia lived on in his soul is not in doubt. But with the circumspection of an octogenarian on the eve of his ninetieth birthday, on 7 July 1977, Chagall declared, "In art there is no nationalism. Russia is still in my heart. But without France I would not be Chagall" (quoted in ibid., p. 489). His love took on a universal vision in his later years, encompassing both the "biblical message" of the Jewish Russia of his youth and the pan-Christian narratives of Europe, in which he chose to live.