Les mariés dans l'horloge au coq signed 'Marc/ Chagall' (lower left) Indian ink, ink, wash, oil and walnut stain on canvas 24 x 33cm (9 7/16 x 13in). Executed in 1956
PROVENANCE Collection of the artist. Timothy Yarger Fine Art, Beverly Hills, California.
This work is sold with a replacement photo-certificate of authenticity from the Comité Chagall.
Just as they are confined within a grandfather clock, so are the newly married couple in Les mariés dans l'horloge au coq happily enveloped in their love for each other. Their happiness is further articulated by the huge bouquet of flowers which flies through the sky with them, soaring over the rooftops of Chagall's childhood memory and formed by splashes of bright colour which stand out against the otherwise sombre background of yellow and black. A symbol of life and affluence, Chagall claimed that there was also a spiritual element to his exuberant posies: 'there lies in the flowers I paint a subtle spell which makes them akin to the flowers of God.' (Chagall, quoted in M. Bohm-Duchen, Chagall, London, 2011, p.195).
The theme of young lovers recurs frequently in Chagall's oeuvre and takes on many different forms. Just as the artist resisted too rigid an interpretation of his works, arguing that the arrangement of the representation of objects on the picture plane was his utmost concern, so too do his depictions of couples evade a straightforward narrative. Often presented in a dream-like haze, his newly-weds are commonly joined by animals and flowers, tumbling through the sky together. Tériade argues that far from a mere objective arrangement of forms, Chagall's works were created by his subconscious:
'Figures travel across Chagall's paintings on the rhythm of a weightless imagination... He arranges his memories of beings and objects according to an order dictated by his soul, and with the feeling of establishing a reality that is truly his own.' (Tériade, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva (ed.), Chagall: A Retrospective, Westport, 1995, p.136).
Despite the seemingly joyous subject, there are portents that the happiness of the couple in the present work may only be temporary. As the moon declines to the lower left of the sky, the cockerel heralds the coming of a new day, and the clock in which the couple travel counts down their time together. This tragic sense of a limited love may be related to the death of Chagall's wife Bella in 1944, which remained a devastating blow for the artist a world disappeared for him and for months afterwards he was unable to work. His adoration for Bella continued to strengthen even after her death, and she remained a central figure in his compositions.
And yet, by the time this work was created, Chagall was seemingly happy in his new relationship with Valentina Brodsky (Vava). Initially his housekeeper, Chagall married Vava almost immediately after their first meeting in 1952, just after the end of his relationship with Virginia Haggard McNeil. Now living in France, they remained husband and wife until Chagall's death in 1985.
Whether paying homage to his new life or looking back to his marriage with Bella, the present work juxtaposes this love with a certain sense of unease, giving a 'lunar remoteness to this elegy, a frozen dream'. (S. Alexander, Marc Chagall: A Biography, New York, 1978, p.370).