During the summer of 1925, Chagall was slowly bringing to completion his series of etchings based on Nikolai Gogol's novel Dead Souls for the dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard. The artist and his wife, Bella, took a holiday in the countryside outside Paris, renting rooms in the small hamlet of Monchauvet in the hilly farmland between the Seine and Oise rivers, where they stayed on and off for several weeks. The paintings that Chagall made there of rural motifs gave Vollard the idea for the next series of illustrations he would commission from Chagall: La Fontaine's Fables. Having fallen in love with the attractions of the French countryside, Chagall decided that he would undertake these gouaches while working in the same kind of rural environment that had inspired La Fontaine three centuries earlier. He traveled south with Bella in the spring of 1926, stopping first at Mourillon, a small fishing village on the Mediterranean, which is now incorporated within the sprawling port of Toulon. They remained there until the summer, staying with Georges Duthuit and his wife Marguerite, the daughter of Henri Matisse, in a small pension known as La Reserve that overlooked the sea.
This was the artist's first experience of the Mediterranean. "Chagall was overwhelmed by the brightness of the sea. His Breton pictures were already permeated by overbright, chalky-cool reflections. But the Mediterranean affected him differently, as a triumphal song of color in the vast, luminous space. He was also thrilled by the bunches of flowers Bella brought home from the market day after day. Their dense, pure, bright colors served him as a link with the landscape. In many of his pictures a bouquet is silhouetted against the sea on a chair, a small table, or the windowsill. Delicate panicles, campanulas, and the great white calyces of arum lilies stand out against the thick foliage, bearers of light that also reflect the brightness of the distance. In these pictures the sea itself is indicated by a few sparse motifs-- bits of nearby coastline, a distant promontory, sailboats; once the whole landscape of the coast from Mourillon toward the east with all the houses, gardens and a terrace overlooking the sea [the present work]" (F. Meyer, op. cit., p. 348).
While staying in Mourillon, Chagall visited Nice on the Côte d'Azur. This was his first view of the area where he would eventually make his home after the Second World War. With the coming of summer, Chagall and Bella moved on to Lake Chambon in the rustic Auvergne region, where Chagall painted landscapes and completed about thirty gouaches for the Fables, a project that was finally completed in 1927.