Marc Chagall (1887-1985) Repos au bouquet de fleurs (Executed circa 1980)

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Lot 10AR
Marc Chagall
Repos au bouquet de fleurs

Sold for £ 245,000 (US$ 305,563) inc. premium
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Repos au bouquet de fleurs
stamped with the artist's signature 'marc chagall' (lower right)
gouache, India ink, wash, wax crayon and pencil on paper
75.3 x 55.8cm (29 3/4 x 21 15/16in).
Executed circa 1980


  • The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by the Comité Chagall.

    The artist's estate.
    Kunsthandel Frans Jacobs, Amsterdam (acquired from the above).
    Private collection, London (acquired from the above in 2000).

    Repos au bouquet de fleurs is a sublime manifestation of Chagall's appreciation of youth, beauty, love and harmony. Chagall painted the piece in the South of France in 1980, using an array of blue, red, green and yellow gouache alongside rich India ink. It depicts many of the most typical motifs of Chagall's art in abundance: the bouquet, the cockerel and the lovers. Despite being almost 90 at the time and one of the most celebrated masters of modernism, this work is a celebration of youthfulness that seems to brim with positivity and energy: in fact, Chagall's style and thematic approach did not shift in any significant way after the late 1920s, when he began to concentrate on depictions of romantic love, and the memories and mythology of his youth in Vitebsk. We see a nostalgia in the truest sense, an aching for a romantic and pastoral idyll, but also an undying positivity that remained at the heart of Chagall's work until the end of his life.

    Chagall's clear love of nature was a common theme in his work, and that translated into this aforementioned feeling of joy and positivity. The most omnipresent symbol of nature seen in his works is, of course, the bouquet of flowers. While flowers have acted as a conduit for artistic expression since the Renaissance, in Chagall's work they assume a totemic quality - here in Repos au bouquet de fleurs the vase of flowers is suspended in the centre of the work like a talisman, dwarfing the figures of the lovers and other motifs surrounding it. Chagall was by impulse a colourist, and aside from their evident thematic power, flowers provided the artist with what he termed 'exercises in the equation of colour and light' (M. Chagall, quoted in F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, p. 369).

    Chagall said that he had never seen bouquets of flowers during his youth in Vitebsk, but was so impressed by the abundance of cut flowers in France once he had moved there that they came, in his mind, to symbolise France itself: '[Chagall] said that when he painted a bouquet it was as if he was painting a landscape. It represented France to him' (J. J. Sweeney, Marc Chagall, New York, 1946, p. 56). With the memories of the pogroms in Eastern Europe, France and by consequence these floral compositions became synonymous with liberty and happiness. Following the horrors of the Second World War, and the death of his first love Bella during that period, these bouquets then took on a further meaning: the fleeting nature of human existence, and the ephemeral nature of love. The ideals of art, nature, freedom and romantic love were very much interconnected in Chagall's mind, and achieving one could not be done without the other: 'only love and uncalculating devotion towards others will lead to the greatest harmony in life and in art of which humanity has been dreaming for so long. And this must, of course, be included in each utterance, each brushstroke, and in each colour' (M. Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, (ed.), Chagall: A Retrospective, Westport, 1995, p. 208).

    There were two great loves in Chagall's life that were manifest in his art: Bella Rosenfeld and Valentina Brodsky. Chagall met Bella in Russia, and she moved with him to France in the twenties. She appears in his earliest works as well as in compositions created by the artist many years after her death: she died while the couple were in exile in the United States during Second World War, and Chagall was shattered by the loss. The artist found a way to commune with his lost love through his depictions of brides and lovers that so often populate his sheets and canvases. Repos au bouquet de fleurs is no different, and Chagall here makes the lovers at rest central to his composition. The male figure, more often than not an autobiographical representation, embraces the female figure who is dressed in white like a virgin or bride. He gazes lovingly towards her as the glorious bouquet of flowers, a symbol of their romantic love, shimmers in a profusion of colour above them. Despite being painted whilst the artist was married to Valentina, or Vava as he knew her, this happy couple could well be a reminiscence of his first love to whom he often returned for inspiration: 'I had only to open my bedroom window, and blue air, love, and flowers entered with [Bella]. Dressed all in white'...'she has long been flying over my canvases, guiding my art' (M. Chagall, trans. P. Owen, My Life, London, 1957, p. 121).

    Subsequently Chagall experienced great contentment with Vava, and began a period of great artistic fruitfulness after they moved to Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the South of France. The landscape and light there had inspired a great line of colourists, to which Chagall was the heir. Like Renoir and Matisse before him, Chagall used the vibrant blues, pinks and greens of the Côte d'Azur to express joy and vivacity. Picasso noted to his lover Françoise Gilot that 'there's never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has' (P. Picasso, quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 282). We see the rooftops of Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the lower left of the composition, while the painter at his easel flies above the scene representing Chagall himself happily at work, surveying the scene below him. The influence of Chagall's interest in, and work in, stained-glass compositions can be seen in the vivid blue and clear delineation of black India ink, creating a shimmering composition where the artist continues to play with myths and memories from life and loves.
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