The Comité Marc Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
'In my mind, the four seasons represent human life, both physical and spiritual, at its different stages.'
– Marc Chagall
L’été, les moissonneuses (Les quatres saisons) depicts a bustling summer harvest in the French countryside, a rich and sumptuous work, brimming with many of Chagall's most favoured and iconic motifs from his personalised lexicon: the mother and child, the donkey and the rooster to name just a few. Chagall developed an abiding love for the beauty of the French landscape while he was painting the gouaches for La Fontaine’s Fables in 1926-1927. Having lived in the Ile-de-France, the Auvergne and on the Mediterranean coast, sometimes away from Paris for weeks at a time, he found the pace of country living and indeed the people themselves very much to his liking. All these experiences were far removed from the more primitive conditions he had known growing up in Russia, where he was subject to a harsh and unrelenting tradition of anti-Semitism. 'I threw myself at new themes I had never seen before in Vitebsk—the flowers in the south of France, the farm workers in Savoy, the well-fed animals. After the Revolution, the destitution and the hunger, I gave my appetite free reign. In all the fantastic things I saw, I could not forget the earth from which we come' (Chagall, quoted in C. Sorlier Marc Chagall et Ambroise Vollard, Paris, 1981, p. 24).
L’été, les moissonneuses belongs to a series of gouaches illustrating the seasons that Chagall painted during 1974. A joyous, radiant gouache with jewel-tone palette infused with ribbons of sumptuous and effervescent blue, Chagall weaves his favoured pigment rhythmically and eloquently throughout the composition, and its various characters, evoking the bright, azure light of summer in harvest. Passages of golden haze fill the surrounding landscape, off-setting the lush vitality of the foliage and flowers, depicted in layers of pastel, watercolour and gouache highlighting the sense of abundance and plenitude radiating within a summer landscape. As Franz Meyer, Chagall’s biographer and son-in-law explained of his work from this period: ‘The light, the vegetation, the rhythm of life, all contributed to the rise of a more relaxed, airy, sensuous style in which the magic of colour dominates…’ (F. Meyer, Marc Chagall: Life and Work, London, 1964, p. 519).
The motifs that populate the dream-like world of L’été, les moissonneuses contain a wealth of visual references and meanings. One’s attention is particularly drawn to the prominent, peasant-like figure depicted lower left. The significance of this character within the overall scene is palpable, a self-portrait of the artist perhaps, identifying himself in the peasant, who is portrayed in a romantic haze of pink pastel and scintillating blue gouache, lovingly connected with all the nature and rural life that fills the remaining composition. This personal connection is reflected further in the familiar rustic dwelling scene of Chagall’s native Vitebsk, poignantly depicted in a halo, observed by the viewer from above. L’été, les moissonneuses is peopled with a multitude of various characters, all engaged in some narrative of their own, possibly recalling memories from the artist's own past or imagined, chance fragments, reflecting other stories. In its entirety, L’été, les moissonneuses, is a glimpse into a pantheon that is Chagall's own, and yet its magical quality and its open, honest charm are enchanting, inviting us to share in his whimsical dream of the summer season during harvest time.
In the same year that Chagall completed the Les quatres saisons series, he moved to the monumental production of The Four Seasons, a mosaic ensemble consisting of 128 separate panels, measuring 14 feet high, 10 feet wide and 70 feet long, which was installed on the Chase Tower Plaza in downtown Chicago, a gift to the city from the American investor Frederick J. Prince. An artisan mosaicist completed the assembly from a model that Chagall prepared in his studio in France. Chagall had customized the Seasons theme by incorporating the Chicago skyline into some of the panels. He arrived in Chicago two weeks before the unveiling to make adjustments to the sections that included the city views, which he had depicted initially from his memories of the time he spent in the Windy City in late 1946, before returning to France from his wartime exile.
Acquired by the present owner directly from the Pierre Matisse Gallery in the 1970s, L’été, les moissonneuses has been cherished in the same collection for decades, and being one of only few remaining gouaches from the series to have never been on the market, a wonderful discovery.