The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Saturated with intensely rich and vibrant colour, La nappe mauve depicts some of the most evocative motifs of Marc Chagall’s prolific oeuvre. On a table covered in a purple tablecloth stands a basket of fruit and a bouquet of flowers that overflows with green foliage and large, impastoed blooms, which were the symbol of romantic love in Chagall’s work. Behind this still-life scene, the outlines of the houses of a town are just visible, while a sickle moon glows in the deep blue sky above. As is typical of Chagall’s work, floating figures adorn the painting: the head of an animal emerges from the burgeoning bouquet, while a man and woman, as well as an ethereal blue figure, appear in the sky next to the flowers. Painted in 1972, La nappe mauve dates from a period when Chagall was considered one of the greatest living artists, having achieved global renown and wide critical acclaim. Painted with the same exuberant intensity that had characterised Chagall’s work throughout his career, La nappe mauve conveys the sheer joy that the artist found in painting, reflecting the themes of love, memory and romance that radiate from his work.
The bursting vivacity of the different areas of colour in La nappe mauve – the verdant green, deep blue and purple, and flaming pink and orange tones – are reminiscent of the jewel-like colour that radiates from a light-filled stained-glass window. At the same time that La nappe mauve was painted, Chagall had been undertaking a number of commissions to design stained-glass windows for cathedrals and public buildings across the world. This art form allowed Chagall to experiment with pure colour and as a result, luminous hues increasingly flooded his painting. Jackie Wullschlager has written, ‘Stylistically, the art of stained glass pushed him forward as a natural step in the evolution of his painting towards pure light, an almost abstract treatment of colour, and monumentalism’ (J. Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, London, 2008, p. 491).
Chagall believed that, ‘Colour is the pulse of a work of art’ (Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, ed., Chagall: A Retrospective, Connecticut, 1995, p. 180), and in La nappe mauve, the surface of the canvas comes alive with frenzied brushstrokes of colour, an explosion of vibrant tones. For Chagall, colour had more than a pictorial role and formal function, but was an essential part of his identity and an integral part of his art; he wrote in 1973, the year after the present work was painted, ‘Colour is purity. Colour is art. Pure art. Or its fundamental intonation… But one must undoubtedly be born with colour. If I love Vitebsk so much it is not only because I was born there but because it was there that I found my colour’ (Chagall, quoted in ibid., p. 322). In La nappe mauve, the abundantly flowering bouquet and the dreamlike setting of the painting becomes an explosive proliferation of colour, a celebratory image of Chagall’s distinctive artistic vision; as André Breton, the French poet and leader of the Surrealist movement in Paris, once described Chagall’s oeuvre, ‘No work was ever so resolutely magical: its splendid prismatic colours sweep away and transfigure the torment of today and at the same time preserve the age-old spirit of ingenuity in expressing everything which proclaims the pleasure principal: flowers and expressions of love’ (A. Breton, ‘The Importance of Chagall’, ibid., p. 153).