The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
In this utterly joyful and life-affirming picture, Chagall has depicted a vase full of pink and white roses, the bouquet seen close-up, pressed against the picture plane, filling the canvas almost to bursting. The blossoms stand out like flashes of colored light against the cascading masses of dark green foliage and the cobalt-colored vase. A band of blue, cloud-flecked sky at the top edge of the canvas suggests a view through a window, but the bouquet seems to hover weightlessly in an abstract and elusive space, imbuing the canvas with a sense of poetic enchantment. “The atmosphere encompasses and pervades the flowers like a magically light, airy fluid, vibrant with their vitality,” Franz Meyer has written. “The flower pieces of this period [1928-1930], as Chagall said later, were des exercices dans la couleur-lumière, which might be translated ‘exercises in the equation of color and light.’ Yet at the same time the material quality of the heavy roses, like that of the scintillating still-lifes of fruits, is accentuated” (Marc Chagall, New York, 1964, p. 369).
Chagall often embellished the edges of his floral still-lifes with embracing couples, winged beings, and diminutive animals–whimsical marginalia that are actually central to the import of the larger composition. In the lower left corner of Vase de roses, emerging from the pale blue of the ground, is a pair of young lovers, their lips about to touch. The great upward thrust of the bouquet seems to emanate from them, as if the blossoms were the natural expression of their love and joy. “The conjunction is one that particularly appealed to Chagall, a bouquet of cut flowers being the archetypal gift for a lover to bring,” Susan Compton has written. “The scent of the red and cream roses is so strongly suggested that it seems to pervade the picture and match the oneness of the pair. Yet cut flowers are ephemeral: through man’s artifice their beauty is arranged momentarily. So in these themes the artist reminds us of the impermanence as well as the ecstasy of human love” (Chagall, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, pp. 210 and 212).
Chagall painted the euphoric Vase de roses in 1929, during a period of unrivaled contentment in his long life. In September 1923, nearly a decade after the outbreak of war had interrupted his youthful first stay in Paris, Chagall left Russia with his wife Bella and their daughter Ida and returned to the French capital, which bubbled with life in this peaceful decade preceding the Depression. Quickly falling in with a cosmopolitan, erudite circle of companions–the painters Robert and Sonia Delaunay, the critic Florent Fels, and the poets Ivan and Claire Goll, to name just a few–Chagall participated avidly in the social and cultural milieu of the city. At the end of 1926, he signed a contract with the prestigious gallery Bernheim-Jeune, which provided him with financial security for the very first time; the next year, Maurice Raynal awarded him a place in his book Modern French Painters, affirming his leadership role within the École de Paris.
“These were good, happy, and busy years,” Werner Haftmann has declared. “Chagall was by then a celebrated painter, belonged to society, and fully enjoyed for the first time the festive life of glittering Paris in all its emancipation and elegance. This accord with the festive side of life is reflected in his painting” (Marc Chagall, New York, 1998, p. 23).
During his first stay in France in 1910-1914, Chagall had rarely ventured beyond Paris; now, he took every opportunity to travel into the provinces, immersing himself in the gentle light and varied terrain of la douce France. “I want an art of the earth and not merely an art of the head,” he explained to Florent Fels (quoted in F. Meyer, op. cit., 1964, p. 337). In Normandy and Brittany, in the Auvergne and the Savoy, Bella brought bunches of flowers home from market each day for Chagall to paint, their vibrant colors serving the artist as a link with the surrounding countryside. “It was in French landscapes, paintings of flowers, and a few portraits that his art advanced in these years,” Jackie Wullschlager has written. “All speak of a new harmony with and interest in nature. Whereas in the first Paris period, his art had been metaphysical and passionate, the yearning expression of visionary youth, in this second French phase Chagall opened out to the world and the French countryside. He found the courage to express himself in a new idiom; away from ravaged Russia and its insistence on ideological positions, he was able to concentrate on painterly values” (Chagall: A Biography, New York, 2008, p. 321).
Vase de roses embodies Chagall’s rapturous response to the French countryside, which stood for him as the land of lumière-liberté–the light of freedom. Everything angular and brash about the art of his Russian years has been smoothed and modulated, draped in the vaporous, luxuriant tonalities and subtle textures of Renoir, Monet, and Bonnard in their later years. “Chagall’s experience of the landscape of France, with its plenitude of light and the marvelous nuances of color radiating through a fine gray mist, changed his painting,” Haftmann has concluded. “He discarded the bright, poster-art colors, moderated the contrasts, smoothed the sharp-edged planes, and broke through the glassy foreground which lay like a magic windowpane in front of the Vitebsk landscape, so that the natural motif was made near and tangible. A color web of delicate iridescent hues falls slowly over the planes, like a sumptuous garment draped over the supporting skeleton of the picture” (op. cit., 1998, p. 22).
Marc Chagall, Les amoureux aux fleurs, 1927. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Anémones, circa 1907. Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.
Pierre Bonnard, Fleurs sur un tapis rouge, 1928. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon.