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Les Fiancés au Bouquet / Engaged Couple with Bouquet



Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Les Fiancés au Bouquet / Engaged Couple with Bouquet
oil on canvas
AGLC 279 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

T here is a wealth of biographical data about  Marc Chagall that helps us shed light on his  art. Born in 1887, in Vitebsk, Belarus, to a practising  Jewish family, in 1907 he began his studies  in St Petersburg, where one of his teachers was  Léon Bakst (1866-1924), known for his ties to the  Ballets Russes. His first sojourn in Paris (1910-  1914) allowed him to discover the great masters  of the recent past: Paul Gauguin (1848-1903),  Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Vincent van Gogh  (1853-1890). He also associated with such representatives  of the literary and artistic avant-garde  as Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961), Guillaume Apollinaire  (1880-1918), Max Jacob (1876-1944),  Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Amedeo Modigliani  (1884-1920) and André Lhote (1885-1962). Chagall’s  art – a veritable explosion of colour, using  an iconography nurtured by his memories of the  Vitebsk ghetto, in which background and figures,  reality and the imaginary world interpenetrate  – was well received, and his profound originality  was recognised from the outset.  Returning to Russia in 1914, he was caught unawares  by the war and stayed there until 1922.  This was a very active period, during which he  worked primarily on the decor of the State Jewish  Theatre in Moscow. His disagreements with the  Suprematists led him to return to Paris via Berlin.  In 1924, he had his first retrospective in Paris.  The art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard  (1886-1939) proposed a series of projects involving  book illustrations, especially on the themes  of the circus and the Bible, an iconography which  is omnipresent in his painting. Chagall travelled  extensively in Europe and America, where he  found refuge during World War II. After the war,  he returned to France, dividing his time among  large-scale decorative projects (the Biblical Message  series, 1955-1966, now in the Musée Marc  Chagall, Nice; the ceiling of the Paris Opéra,  1963-1964; murals for the Lincoln Art Center in  New York, 1965-1966; stained-glass windows in  France, Israel and the US, as well as tapestries),  stage designs, easel paintings and an abundance  of etchings and lithographs.     

Les Fiancés au Bouquet, a canvas he started in 1954  and to which he kept returning until 1963 (according  to a notation in the exhibition catalogue of the  Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where  it was shown in 1967), belongs to a happy and  productive period in Chagall’s career. The painter,  living in Vence, in the Midi region of France, was  working concurrently on decorative projects for  the theatre and various buildings, as well as on  individual canvases. A widower, following the  death in 1944 of his wife Bella, in 1952 he remarried  Valentina Brodsky, known as ‘Vava’, and the  theme of the couple (in love, married, portrayed  with bunches of flowers – a symbol of fulfilment  and fecundity which is present in Chagall’s painting from early on) acquired a new freshness in  this autobiographical context. Reduced to two  simple masks and two hands inscribed inside a  crescent, the figures are inseparable from the  intensely laboured background. A rising sun illuminates  the darkened space; the village, with its  horse-drawn cart, could again be Vitebsk, unless  it evokes Vence, as in a similar composition  (Les Amoureux de Vence, 1957, private collection;  reproduced in Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall, Paris  1964, p. 557), or the little neighbouring village  of Saint-Jeannet, which appears in numerous  paintings of this period. One must, however, be  wary of such spontaneous interpretations: ‘An  animal,’ Chagall tells us, ‘can sometimes assume  the form of an object. Another object can bring  to mind a bunch of flowers, while an actual bouquet  is transfigured into a house. People walking  in the back, at the front, or moving backwards  on different planes. More than the meaning of  these elements, I wish to underscore their value,  their constructive character in the architecture  of my paintings. Which in no way prevents them  from being born spontaneously.’  The painter also  noted: ‘Remember that my painting isn’t really  European. It is part-oriental. Colour and material  – that’s what counts for me. I’m not interested in  the formal aspect of a painting.’       

An exceptional figure in an era crisscrossed by  countless movements and schools, Chagall did not  let himself become a slave to any one of them, but  chose to represent an imaginary, symbolic world,  nurtured by biblical scriptures and his personal  memories, and to impose a reign of colour. It is this  extreme originality, which is immediately identifiable,  that made him one of the most universally  known and loved painters of the 20th century. 

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About the artist

The tremendous individuality of this 20th-century master makes his work instantly recognisable and universally admired. Unswayed by contemporary art movements, his unique style and often autobiographical subjects, mingled with elements of Jewish folk culture, combined to create an imaginary, symbolic world dominated by bright colours. He studied in St Petersburg with Léon Bakst and then went to Paris (1910-1914), where he discovered the works of Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh. He returned to Russia in 1914 and stayed until 1922 because of World War I; during World War II, he lived in America and then returned to France. Other than painting, he made book illustrations, large-scale decorative projects, stage designs, tapestries, stained-glass windows and many etchings and lithographs.

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