Marc Chagall (1887-1985) Couple au bouquet (Executed circa 1975)

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Lot 32AR
Marc Chagall
Couple au bouquet
Sold for £ 75,000 (US$ 99,575) inc. premium

Lot Details
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Couple au bouquet
pastel, coloured and black pencil and pen and ink on paper
33.8 x 26cm (13 5/16 x 10 1/4in).
Executed circa 1975


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

    Private collection, Germany (acquired in the 1990s).
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    Eutin, Stiftung Schloss Eutin, Marc Chagall - Poesie der Farben, 14 May – 26 July 2015.
    Düsseldorf, Beck & Eggeling, Marc Chagall, c'est la vie..., 25 March - 27 May 2017.

    The following three works on paper by Marc Chagall stem from a period of great productivity for the artist and show the exuberant style and joyful content of his later works. Spanning the years 1975 - 1983, Chagall executed these works in his nineties, and as often in these later years, celebrates motifs familiar from the past with a youthful energy. Issuing from a large private collection of works by Chagall built up over many years, these compositions show the artist's characteristically bold palette, the animals of Vitebsk and the circus, the figure of the artist, the bouquet and of course the lovers.

    The figures in Couple au bouquet, executed circa 1975, stand beneath a towering arrangement of flowers, a symbol Chagall commonly used to denote romance. The comparatively gentle blue and orange hues of this composition are punctuated by the strong greens and reds of the dominant bouquet, from which it appears the young suited man has plucked a small posy to offer the female, voluptuously nude save for her necklace. A visual embodiment of love in Chagall's work from its first appearance in The Birthday of 1915 in which his first wife Bella holds a small bunch of flowers, the bouquet would subsequently symbolise the happiness he found with second wife Vava (to whom he remained married until his death in 1985), and indeed France itself for the artist, who claimed not to have seen cut flowers before moving there. These radiant vases hold a dichotomy however, fitting for an artist who had experienced both great love and loss: 'cut flowers are ephemeral: through man's artifice their beauty is arranged momentarily [...] the artist reminds us of the importance as well as the ecstasy of human love' (S. Compton, Chagall, exh. cat., London, 1958, p. 212).

    Following the death of his childhood sweetheart Bella in 1944, Chagall fell in love with the married Virginia Haggard, and after their separation in 1952 quickly found romance again with his housekeeper Valentina Brodsky, 'Vava'. Many of Chagall's compositions can be read as odes to love, to which Couleurs de l'amour, executed circa 1983, stands testament. In this striking all-over composition, the couple are cocooned and almost overwhelmed by the riot of colour which surrounds them – sweeping curves are formed of separate dabs of pure, vibrating pigment. The title echoes Chagall's belief that 'in our life there is a single colour, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art and that is the Colour of Love' (M. Chagall, quoted in Marc Chagall, Fables, exh. cat., London, 2016, p. 2). Just as the blooms in Couple au bouquet are used as a vehicle for the artist's exuberant palette, so here the very relationship of this couple spills into paint. Chagall's palette was initially emboldened following his move to Paris from Russia in 1910, influenced by the Fauves, and the intense hues he used would become a hallmark of his oeuvre from then on. The light and landscape of Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the South of France would further inspire the artist following his move there in 1950 and rejuvenated his colourful palette. Françoise Gilot cites Picasso as saying in the 1950s: 'when Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is [...] Some of the last things he's done in Vence convince me that there's never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has' (M. Bohm-Duchen, Chagall, London, 2011, p. 286).

    The artist's later experiments with stained glass windows surely also informed the present work, as the unusually fragmented brushstrokes, like separate panes of glass, create jewel-like lozenges of colour which suffuse the work with energy. Similar energy is found in Homme cheval avec coq jaune (circa 1978): this intricately worked composition is formed of whorls of multi-coloured pastel, felt-tip pen and pencil in a joyous palette of magenta, lime green, bright yellow, orange, blue and scarlet. Lines loop over one another, creating continual movement around the work, which recalls some of Chagall's most fantastical motifs. A horse/man hybrid strides through the picture plane, clutching a yellow cockerel, surrounded by a colourful crowd seemingly in celebration amidst bright bunting. The figure of the artist stands to one side, capturing the scene. Chagall here looks back to the horses, donkeys and cockerels which populated his early Vitebsk scenes, and to works such as Autoportrait à la crucifixion (1947) in which the red donkey overlaps with and threatens to become the artist himself. His 1927-1930 Les Fables de la Fontaine etching series is surely also evoked, with its dreamlike figures and mythical beasts. The figure of the horse was first seen pulling carts in Vitebsk, and in later works flying through the sky Pegasus-like or being ridden in the circus ring. The artist spoke of his fascination with the beast, wondering 'at the sight of horses, who are always in a state of ecstasy, I think, are they not perhaps happier than we? You can kneel down peacefully before a horse and pray. It always lowers its eyes in a rush of modesty. I hear the echo of the horses' hooves in the pit of my stomach. I could race on a horse for the first time and for the last time, to the brilliant arena of life' (M. Chagall, quoted in in B. Harshav, (ed.), Marc Chagall on Art and Culture, Stanford, 2003, p. 153).

    Each of the these works joyfully reimagines Chagall's typical tapestry of loosely connected fantastical elements and motifs, bound by ethereal and vibrant colour, illustrating the artist's assertion that 'for me the picture is a surface covered with representations of things (objects, animals, human beings) in a certain order in which logic and illustration have no importance. The visual effect of the composition is what is paramount' (M. Chagall, quoted in S. Compton, op. cit., p. 21).
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