Chagall arrived in Paris just as cubism made its emphatic public debut at the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, provoking frenzied intellectual debate within the city’s avant-garde artistic circles. Several of his paintings of this period are informed stylistically by the tenets of cubism – tenets which he rendered ambiguous through his use of a fauvist-inspired colour sensibility. As Chagall had no ties to the ideology behind cubism, he felt free to assemble a mix of its constituent parts, to take its concept of fragmentation and apply it to his own deeply imagined realms.

Chagall attended several art academies during his first year in Paris, where the availability of life models enabled his experimentation with different stylistic treatments of the nude figure, ranging from expressionism to cubism. Given that it was unusual at that time for a Jewish artist to produce nude life studies, these works indicate Chagall’s willing embrace of the novel Parisian culture.

Chagall chose to remain relatively isolated from his fellow artists, preferring the company of writers and poets. He became particularly close to Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars; the latter chose the titles for several of his key paintings including Half-Past Three (The Poet) 1911. This large painting has distinctly cubist tendencies, undercut by a non-naturalistic colour scheme and layers of literary references. It demonstrates the productivity of Chagall’s encounter with cubism.