After a landmark solo exhibition, his first, at Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin, in June 1914, Chagall returned to Vitebsk to attend his sister’s wedding and be reunited with his fiancée Bella Rosenfeld, also a native of the city. He intended to remain for a short period but the outbreak of the First World War extended his stay in Russia, unexpectedly and without reprieve, to eight years.

Chagall’s homecoming sparked a series of small, monochromatic works on paper that looked to the town’s war-traumatised residents for subject matter. These works capture life in the town as soldiers were dispatched to and from the war and the town’s population swelled with Jewish refugees. On25 July 1915 Chagall married Bella and a series of double portraits of the young couple celebrate their love and passion for one another. His arrival in Vitebsk also allowed him to spend time with his family. The more naturalistic images of family members express his renewed familial connections and his desire to capture in paint those closest to him.

After a period in Petrograd, and following the October Revolution of 1917, Chagall and Bella returned to Vitebsk. The influence of cubism that Chagall had so inventively worked through in Paris returned in a subsequent series of Vitebsk landscapes, some painted in the company of his first teacher, Yehuda Pen.