This painting is sold with a photo-certificate from the Comité Chagall, where it is dated 'circa 1927'.
Painted circa 1927, Fleurs is filled with the magical sense of romance that permeates the greatest of Chagall's works. The flowers, symbols of love and beauty, have been rendered with vivid red and white for the roses and what appear to be lilacs respectively. These colours are made all the more dramatic through their contrast with the blue of the background. This colour is itself evocative of evening, of shade. The fact that so much of Fleurs is bathed in this colour adds a dreamlike quality to the work. Dream, after all, was crucial to so many of his paintings. While Fleurs has none of the capricious beasts, violinists or other such elements that would denote this as being a painting based on dream imagery, it is nonetheless saturated with an air of enchantment and of mystery.
It was the dreamlike quality in Chagall's works that had initially led to the Surrealists approaching the artist and asking him to join their number. It was this same oneiric sense of whimsy that led to Ambroise Vollard commissioning two groups of works from Chagall during the period that Fleurs was painted. The first of these were gouaches that he prepared as illustrations for La Fontaine's Fables in 1926, while the following year he executed a large group of works focussing on the theme of the circus. While clearly neither element is evident in Fleurs, it is nonetheless telling that these fun and entertaining subjects had been seen as suited to Chagall, while he likewise appears to have benefited from tackling these themes. The circus in particular had long haunted Chagall, and yet would also conversely result in some of his most exuberant works. Fleurs shares in some of this exuberance with its firework-like explosion of flowers.
Fleurs also shares in the implied atmosphere of romance that Chagall had explored in both series and that indeed featured in so many of his works following his marriage to Bella Rosenfeld. From the moment they married in 1915, Chagall's pictures had more and more often featured love as a theme, be it central, obvious or implied. This only came to increase as the years passed, reflecting the deep and even religious belief that Chagall had in the eternal nature of this love (this aspect would subsequently come to fuel many of his works from the mid-1940s onwards, as he would visualise his reunion with Bella, who died in 1944). The theme of love often showed itself through romance in his pictures, and this led to the incorporation of flowers in many of his works. In Fleurs, the romantic gesture of giving flowers is perhaps reflected in the inclusion of two empty vessels a pichet and a small glass vase in the foreground. These too-small receptacles serve to emphasise the size of the bunch, lying there as though it had been a process of trial and error to find the right kind of vase.
As is clearly demonstrated in Fleurs, Chagall managed to inject new life and energy into the ancient tradition of the flower painting. He lent it new depth through his own intimate link to his subject matter. Fleurs is a deeply expressive and personal picture in that sense. Importantly, it appears to pay little heed to the themes of vanity or the memento mori that had characterised many Old Master treatments of similar subjects. While there is an atmosphere of impermanence in the dream-like blue and perhaps a hint of absence in the empty vessels in the foreground, Fleurs nonetheless remains primarily a colourist celebration. In this sense, it appears to relate less to Chagall's predecessors than to one of his contemporaries-- Henri Matisse. Even the use of the window within the painting appears to point towards this being some form of answer or even homage to Matisse, an attempt on Chagall's part to take his subject matter and bend it towards his own purposes. Fleurs allows the artist to revel in a Matisse-like enjoyment of luxury as well as visual richness and splendour.
The mid- to late 1920s were to be one of the greatest periods of success for Chagall, as he gained wider and wider recognition. It was during this time that he had his first American exhibition, as well as many other shows in France and elsewhere. It was also important that in 1927 he signed a contract with Bernheim-Jeune, giving him financial security. He now had an increasing number of patrons and was truly settling into life in France after his ultimately disappointing years in post-Revolutionary Russia. It is telling that during the late 1920s, he spent vast amounts of time travelling through France, visiting various friends, both old and new. He was approached by the Surrealists, by the Bauhaus artists, by old Russian friends and fellow artists, and began friendships with many of them. In a sense, it is this wider contentment, and the freshness of life in the country, that is reflected in Fleurs, which is essentially a happy picture from a happy and prosperous period in the artist's life.