Etude pour la femme en rouge signed 'Marc/ Chagall' (lower right) Indian ink and oil on canvas 20 x 24cm (7 7/8 x 9 7/16in). Executed in 1946
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.
A pervasive theme throughout his career, Chagall's portrayal of lovers in flight can first be traced back to L'Anniversaire of 1915, which shows the artist and his wife about to fly through an open window. By the time Etude pour la femme en rouge was executed, Chagall's lovers have taken full flight above a snowy landscape. They embrace and entwine as one, merged both by the artist's sinuous line and use of unifying colour. Painted in a throbbing vermilion, their colour and vibrancy seeps into the sky before them and adds to the upward diagonal movement of the whole work.
Observed by a tumbling fish, flanked by a vivid bouquet of flowers and what appears to be a basket of food, the man and woman are surrounded by symbols of abundance, hope and life. The flowers provide a counterpoint of colour in the otherwise stark background and combine with Chagall's expressive palette to emphasise the couple's happiness:
'[His] splendid prismatic colours sweep away and transfigure the torment of today and at the same time preserve the age-old spirit of ingenuity of expressing everything which proclaims the pleasure principle: flowers and expressions of love.' (André Breton, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva (ed.), Chagall: A Retrospective, Westport, 1995, p.153).
Just as Chagall's technique allows ghostly forms to emerge gently from his hazy background, so does the presence of the fish heighten the sense of the surreal in the present work. Whether its literal origin comes from Chagall's childhood experience of his brother's apprenticeship to a herring merchant, or whether inspired by the religious symbolism traditionally imbued to the fish, he frees it from its natural habitat and allows both it and us to fly alongside the couple in his unabashed celebration of romance:
'As for Chagall, he is a painter who was born a Romantic.' (Tériade, quoted in ibid., p.136).