The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Chagall painted Place du Tertre as part of his "Paris Series," a group of more than thirty canvases that he conceived in February 1952, and executed over the course of the next two years. A selection of twenty-nine of these pictures was exhibited at Galerie Maeght in June 1954. He based many of these views on drawings he made as he walked the boulevards and streets of a city he had known since he was a young man; he also returned to sketches he made in colored chalks and pastels while on a three-month sojourn in Paris during the spring of 1946, the first of several visits he made to France as he considered relocating from America, where he had spent his wartime exile. Following his permanent return in 1948 Chagall eventually settled in Vence, at town in the Midi. He continued to use his daughter Ida's home in Paris as a base and was a frequent visitor to the capital for exhibitions and other activities.
The views in the "Paris Series," as Franz Meyer has written, "blend under a magic veil of color with the dance of lovers and fabulous creatures" (op. cit., p. 530). The artist evoked well-known sites in the capital including Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Bastille, Opéra, Panthéon, Place de la Concorde, St-Germain-des-Prés and the bridges and quays along the Seine. Chagall wrote in the Maeght exhibition catalogue: "Paris, my heart's reflection: I would like to blend with it, not to be alone with myself." As Jackie Wullschlager has noted, this was "his first exhibition since his marriage to Vava [in 1952], and it demonstrated a new ambition, scale and consistency of vision that had been absent from his work in the decade following Bella's death" (Chagall: A Biography, New York, 2008, p. 483).
The present painting is Chagall's poetic evocation of Montmartre, for which the artist has chosen a view of the Place du Tertre. The gabled vestibule of the Église-St-Pierre, dating from the twelfth century and one of the oldest churches in Paris, is visible in the center of composition, with the cupola of the Basilique de Sacre-Coeur towering behind it. The buildings on the left side line the Rue Norvins along the edge of the market square. Chagall has turned one of the trees into the figure of Christ crucified: the tree of life becomes the wooden cross. Chagall is perhaps alluding to a local legend dating from the early middle ages which claims that the place name Montmartre signifies the Martyrs' Mound, referring to the site of the martyrdom of Saint-Denis, the first bishop of Paris, and two of his acolytes in about 250 AD. The place name is actually known to derive from a pagan term for the Mound of Mercury, the Roman god. The artist is also expressing his admiration for Christ, a Jew like himself, as an exemplary man, a bringer of love to the people of Paris. A flower-seller emerges from the foot of the cross, bearing a basket of her wares.
The cock or rooster is one of the most frequently appearing animal avatars in Chagall's iconography, and normally expresses a man's--or specifically the artist's--virile powers. Here a rooster enfolds within its profile, its coxcomb having become an embracing arm, the head and figure of a young woman adorned in a white bridal veil. She may well represent Chagall's new wife Vava; the artist, here a smaller green-faced, red haired man, approaches and embraces her belly, her fruitful womb. As Meyer has pointed out, "For thousands of years [the rooster] has played a part in religious rites as the embodiment of the forces of sun and fire. This symbolic meaning still lingers on in Chagall's work, where the cock represents elementary spiritual power" (ibid., pp. 380-381). In the city of Paris, under a red sky of three suns, the great rooster symbolizes an all-enveloping solar force; its tail bursts into a huge spray of flowers, demonstrating its life-giving powers. The rooster accompanied the god Mercury in antiquity, and in Christian lore announces the light of Christ as it rises in the east, marking the cycle of life, death and the rebirth of the spirit.