La robe brodée, 1969
Maeght Gallery, Zurich.
Private Collection, Argentina, acquired from the above in 1971;
Thence by descent to the present owner.
La robe brodée contains many of Marc Chagall’s most famous motifs and themes, with music, flowers, romance and an overarching dreamlike strangeness brought vividly to life by the range of fantastical characters that populate this work. Amongst its most imaginative elements are a rooster, a violin-playing clown and lovers suspended in mid-air. The bride in the foreground wears the titular ‘robe brodée’, or embroidered dress, captured evocatively with stippled brushstrokes. Each of these figures was a recurring feature within the artist’s oeuvre, used as a multifaceted symbol to create increasingly complex personal narratives. Discussing his use of these symbolic leitmotifs, Chagall compared himself to a writer, explaining: ‘Poets always use the same letters, but out of them they constantly recreate different words’ (M. Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall: 1887 – 1985, Cologne, 2008, p. 269). Created at the beginning of a period of intense reflection and retrospection for the artist, this work, with its ethereal bride, demonstrates the central importance of memory in Chagall’s mature work. Indeed, the buildings that frame the composition conjure up not Chagall’s adopted home, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, but rather his native Vitebsk where he met his first wife, Bella Rosenfeld. With its distinctive buildings and rural character, Vitebsk would remain a fundamental source of inspiration for the artist, who referred to it as ‘the soil that nourished the roots of my art’ (M. Chagall, op. cit., p. 19).
While revisiting his earlier years in Vitebsk, the picture’s vibrant colours also capture the joyful tranquillity of his new life with his second wife, Vava. As Franz Meyer has written: ‘The light, the vegetation, the rhythm of life all contributed to the rise of a more relaxed airy, sensuous style in which the magic of colour dominates more and more with the passing years. At Vence he witnessed the daily miracle of growth and blossoming in the mild, strong all-pervading light—an experience in which earth and matter had their place’ (F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, London, 1964, p. 519). The combination of the ethereal and the colourful, the spectral and the dynamic, results in a whimsical, dream-like composition that becomes an expression of the artist’s internal universe. As Alexander Liberman wrote: ‘One must look at his paintings closely to experience their full power. After the impact of the overall effect, there is the joy of the close-up discover. Chagall understands this visual secret better than most painters; he draws our interest into a corner where minute details hold it, and when we tire of that, we rest, floating in a space of colour, until the eye lands on a new small island of quivering life’ (‘The Artist in His Studio’, 1958; in J. Baal-Teshuva, Chagall: A Retrospective, Fairfield, CT, 1995, p. 337).
This work is accompanied by a photo-certificate from the Comité Chagall dated 5 July 2017 and numbered 2017057.