Marc Chagall

Bouquet with Flying Lovers


Not on display

Marc Chagall 1887–1985
Original title
Bouquet aux amoureux volants
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1305 × 975 × 23 mm
frame: 1545 × 1215 × 126 mm
Purchased 1948

Display caption

According to the artist, this picture was begun in the mid-1930s, when he was living in Paris and painting a number of still lifes of flowers. He worked on it at intervals over a period of many years, and the present composition is the final state of three or four. In it two lovers hover behind the dominating vase of flowers, while an angel flies in through the window. To the right is a glimpse of the village of Vitebsk in Russia, where the artist was born. The painting appears to evoke an atmosphere of happiness, but the artist said that it expressed feelings of loss and nostalgia: his wife Bella had died shortly before the final repainting of the work, and he was passing through a period of mourning.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Marc Chagall born 1887 [- 1985]

N05804 Bouquet aux Amoureux volants (Bouquet with Flying Lovers) c.1934-47

Inscribed 'Marc Chagall' b.l. and again on bottom edge of the canvas and on the stretcher
Oil on canvas, 51 3/8 x 38 3/8 (130.5 x 97.5)
Purchased from Mme Ida Meyer-Chagall (Cleve Fund) 1948
Prov: The artist; Mme Ida Meyer-Chagall, Paris, 1948
Exh: Marc Chagall, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, February-March 1938 (36) as 'Les Amoureux' and dated 1936; [?Marc Chagall, Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, October-November 1944 (3) as 'Fiancés au bouquet blanc']; Marc Chagall, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, October-December 1947 (not in catalogue); Chagall, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, December 1947-January 1948 (65) as 'Bloemen' (Flowers) and dated 1947; Marc Chagall, Tate Gallery, February 1948 (73) as 'Bouquet of Flying Lovers' and dated 1947
Lit: Ronald Alley, 'Notes on some Works by Degas, Utrillo and Chagall in the Tate Gallery' in Burlington Magazine, C, 1958, p.172, repr. p.170, figs.31 and 32; Franz Meyer, Marc Chagall (London 1964), p.475, No.769 in classified catalogue, repr.
Repr: Illustrated London News, CCXXIII, 1953, p.662; The Artist, November 1953, p.57

This picture was purchased in 1948 from the Chagall exhibition at the Tate Gallery, when it appeared in the catalogue as 'Bouquet of Flying Lovers' (1947). There is, however, a label of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, on the stretcher, which shows that it was in Chagall's exhibition there in 1938 under the title 'The Lovers': it was then dated 1936. Chagall himself told the compiler on 3 January 1953 and 7 April 1956 that it was begun in Paris probably as early as 1933-4 at a time when he was painting a number of still lifes of flowers; he worked on it at intervals over a period of many years and the present composition must be the third or fourth state. Through the courtesy of Franz Meyer and Mme Ida Meyer-Chagall, a photograph has been obtained of an earlier version, said to be the first state, taken when the picture was in the hands of Pierre Matisse, Chagall's agent in America [reproduced p.113; not reproduced here]. This shows important differences. The flowers are the same, but the surrounding areas are different. Instead of being set in an ambiguous space - part open-air, part indoors - the action takes place inside a room with a big window on the right. Instead of the lovers who sweep into the picture, there are two rather larger heads of lovers embracing which emerge at the top of the bouquet, as if their bodies were concealed behind it; and in the top right-hand corner an angel flies through the window with one hand extended towards them (these motifs have been more or less fused in the final composition). The glimpse of the village is rather different, there is no cock and the composition is much more loosely constructed, without any Cubist stylizations. All these features can be seen very clearly in X-ray photographs of the picture itself and there is no trace of any further composition - but for that matter the final composition does not register in the X-ray either, so the possibility of intermediate stages cannot be ruled out. Franz Meyer states that the re-elaboration was carried out at High Falls, near Rosendale, in the northern part of New York State, where Chagall lived from 1946 to 1948.

The first version is typical of Chagall's idyllic compositions of lovers rejoicing in their happiness. When he came to repaint the canvas in 1947, however, his first wife Bella had died and he was passing through a period of mourning. As he stated in front of the picture in January 1953, 'The Bouquet with Flying Lovers' is one of a group of works which express his feelings of loss and nostalgia; the village on the right is Vitebsk, his birthplace. There would appear to be a clear allusion to the marriage, Bella in bridal dress sweeping into the picture like a comet (and also like a disembodied spirit), Chagall himself turning to embrace her as they move towards the open windows of a house where a fiddle with a head half-human, half-donkey, evokes an atmosphere of happiness. But in the background the dramatic intrusion of a crowing cock seems to indicate the passage of time and a recall to reality.

When pressed to give a detailed explanation of the content, the artist replied, however: 'Say that I work with no express symbols but as it were subconsciously. When the picture is finished, everyone can interpret it as he wishes.'

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.112-14, reproduced p.113

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