The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
With its dreamlike atmosphere and deep, blue colour palette, Marc Chagall’s Le petit flûtiste presents a striking, otherworldly vision in which the artist appears to recall one of the most impactful events of his youth – his first meeting with his wife and muse, Bella Rosenfeld, in their hometown of Vitebsk. In his 1922 autobiography, My Life, Chagall describes the intense feelings he experienced upon seeing Bella for the first time: ‘It’s as if she had known me for a long time, and knew all my childhood, my present, and my future… I knew that this was she – my wife’ (M. Chagall, My Life, London, 2013, p. 77). In Le petit flûtiste, Chagall re-imagines the scene, infusing it with the sense of whimsy and magic typical of his oeuvre, as he creates a highly romanticised vision of the event, remembered almost forty years after its occurrence.
Set amongst the small, distinctive silhouettes of the houses of Vitebsk, the artist immortalises this fortuitous moment as Bella, in the guise of a bride, approaches his younger self. Although she remains oblivious to his presence, Chagall is clearly entranced by Bella’s ethereal form, appearing in a reverie as she seems to float towards him. This powerful connection between the bride and her admirer becomes the central focus of the painting, linking the figures to one another across the canvas. At the heart of the painting, a large vase of vibrantly blooming flowers rises between the two young lovers, acting as a symbol for the abundance and power of their blossoming romance. Chagall often used flowers as a symbol of romantic love in his paintings, incorporating the motif in his compositions in order to evoke the intense feelings of passion and love that absorbed him when he thought about Bella. In the foreground of the composition, the flutist of the title lifts his instrument to play a tune, further enhancing the joyous atmosphere of Bella and Chagall’s meeting. Painted in the late 1960s, this work demonstrates the growing importance of memory in Chagall’s oeuvre at this time, as he endeavoured to pay homage to Bella and their time together in the aftermath of her death in 1944.