Marc Chagall (1887-1985) Le bouquet au pot vert 19 1/2 x 13 3/4 in (49.7 x 34.8 cm) (Painted in 1951)

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Lot 38
Marc Chagall
Le bouquet au pot vert 19 1/2 x 13 3/4 in (49.7 x 34.8 cm)

Sold for US$ 360,500 inc. premium

Impressionist & Modern Art

15 May 2018, 17:00 EDT

New York

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Le bouquet au pot vert
signed 'marc chagall' (lower left)
watercolor, gouache and pastel on paper
19 1/2 x 13 3/4 in (49.7 x 34.8 cm)
Executed in 1951


  • Provenance
    Private Collection, Florida (and sold; Sotheby's, New York, 10 November 2000, lot 264).
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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

    Chagall's Le bouquet au pot vert perfectly encapsulates the turning point experienced by the artist during the years following the Second World War. In the present work, Chagall simultaneously looks back, to his past life and love, and forward to the new hope he discovered when he moved to the South of France.

    Chagall escaped the Nazi invasion of France and fled war-torn Europe in May 1941. He would not return to France until the late 1940s. During the years spent in America, Chagall's first wife Bella died suddenly due to a lack of available medicine caused by war shortages. Bella and Chagall married in their home town of Vitebsk in 1914, and the impact of their romance on his work cannot be overstated. As his greatest muse, Bella's presence in Chagall's work is almost constant, especially in the years following her death when the artist sought to commemorate their love through abundant depictions of his childhood sweetheart. One can interpret his evocation of Bella as a form of grief, and after a period of many months of complete hiatus, Chagall produced an outpouring of work depicting the love of his life.

    The period spent in New York was a time of great suffering for Chagall, with Bella's death compounded by his discovery of the Nazi bombardment of his hometown Vitebsk, and his learning of the unfolding horrors of the Holocaust. Compounded by his desire to return to Europe, Chagall confronted these terrible truths in a series of works depicting the Crucifixion. Chagall viewed the Crucifixion from the New Testament as a metaphor for the suffering of the Jews in Europe. This subject appeared as early as 1908 in his work, but really came to the fore following a commission from his art dealer Ambroise Vollard to illustrate the Old Testament in 1931. Chagall worked obsessively on the project, visiting the Holy Land and studying the works of El Greco and Rembrandt for inspiration. Painted in 1938, White Crucifixion (Arts Institute of Chicago, gift of Alfred S. Alschuler), was the first major work depicting the Crucifixion. White Crucifixion along with later works such as The Yellow Crucifixion (Centre Georges Pompidou), exemplified the monumentality and mysticism that Chagall imbued in these depictions of martyrdom.

    Following the death of Bella, and Chagall's subsequent period of intense mourning, he began a relationship with the daughter of a diplomat - Virginia Haggard McNeill – with whom he had a son. Accompanied by Virginia, he returned to Europe in 1947. His return was triumphant: a major exhibition of his work that year at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris was a resounding success, and his work brimmed with a new sense of hope and positivity. In 1949, he was invited by his publisher Tériade to join him in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where he encountered the saturated light and abundant warmth of the Côte-d'Azur. This area of France had become an artist's colony, with Picasso in Vallauris and Matisse in Nice. Chagall found an intense sense of inspiration here, and moved with Virginia to the village of Vence, purchasing a beautiful turn-of-the-century villa called Les Collines, where he began to paint with a fervour: "An explosion of new ideas was suddenly released at the sight of the Mediterranean ... His store of 'Chagall' material was jolted and injected with new substance, producing a series of variations around the theme ... the sea, the boats and flowers of St. Jean tumbled out in exultant succession..." (V. Haggard McNeill, My Life with Chagall, New York, 1986, pp. 89-90).

    Flowers became a fascination for the artist during this key period. Chagall was so impressed by the abundance of flowers in the South of France, and particularly cut flowers, that they came to represent the blossoming of life and love that he was experiencing at this time. France became again a place of refuge and of joy for him, embodied by these explosions of color: "[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).

    Le bouquet au pot vert brings together important sources of inspiration, in a work of intense color and painterly expression. Chagall presents the viewer with two symbols of life and bounty: the basket of plump fruit, and an overflowing bouquet of flowers in a vibrant green vase. An abundance of whites and pinks in the bouquet reinforce the sense of purity, romance and vitality in this work, and the expressive highlights Chagall has employed give the piece a sense of movement and volume. Crucially, these motifs are framed by visions from Chagall's past. The Crucifixion scene in the upper left appears, mirage-like, as a reminder of the suffering experienced by Chagall and so many others during the War. The figure reading is dwarfed by the bouquet and fruit, locked in contemplation: a vision of Bella, her presence returning to Chagall in his new surroundings. This scene beautifully represents the coexistence of past and present in the mind of the artist, and the emblems of past and present crowned by the figure of a flying angel, sweeping across the top of the composition blessing Chagall at the dawn of this new period of happiness and creativity.
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