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La Mariée (1950): The Story of Marc Chagall’s Revered Artwork

La Mariée is one of the most iconic works produced by Marc Chagall, exemplifying his astounding use of color to conjure up an image that inhabits both reality and the imagination. In this article, Singulart takes a closer look at Chagall’s masterpiece as well as his life and unique style. 

Who was Marc Chagall? 

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was a Russian-French artist and a renowned member of European Early Modernism. He was born into a Lithuanian Jewish Hassidic family near the city of Vitebsk, when Belarus was still part of the Russian Empire. At this time, Jewish children were not allowed to attend regular schools and their freedom was heavily restricted. Chagall was instead educated at the local Jewish primary school until his mother bribed a regular high school into accepting him. Despite the doubts of his family and the odds stacked against Jewish artists at the time, Chagall pursued his desire to become a painter.

In 1906, he moved to Saint Petersburg, obtaining a passport through a friend as was necessary for Jews at the time and studied at a prestigious art school for two years. He then went on to study under the artist Leon Bakst at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting until 1910. It was during this time that Chagall began to discover the works of the European avant-garde, such as Paul Gauguin, and in the same year he moved to Paris in the hopes of developing his artistic style. While in Paris, Chagall immersed himself in the artistic hub of the time, becoming friends with other artists and creatives – such as Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay and Fernand Leger – while enrolling to study in an avant-garde art school and spending the rest of his time visiting galleries, salons and the Louvre. Here, he would begin to develop a selection of his core motifs including floating figures, large fiddlers dancing on small dolls houses and farm animals. 

Marc Chagall

In 1914, Chagall accepted an invitation to exhibit in Berlin and then decided to continue back to Belarus in order to marry his fiancée, Bella, but with the intention to return to Paris with her immediately. However, the First World War broke out and the Russian borders closed, forcing Chagall to stay in Belarus. He married Bella a year later and after the birth of their first child, Ida, he began to exhibit and work in Moscow. Between 1921 and 1923, Chagall worked hard and lived in impoverished conditions with his family. In 1923, he returned to France and started a business with the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard. 

Chagall remained in France until 1941, a period during which he worked prolifically and traveled around France, specifically the South, inspired by the landscape that also inspired his contemporaries such as Picasso and Matisse. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Chagall was saved from Vichy France by the New York Museum of Modern Art’s initiative, which helped rescue prominent artists in danger during the war and bring them to America. He arrived in New York on June 23rd 1941 with his wife Bella, the same day Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. His daughter Ida and her husband followed and also sought refuge in the United States. He remained in America until 1947, when he returned to France and lived on the Cote d’Azur with many other of the early Modernists. In 1963, Chagall was commissioned by André Malraux, France’s Minister of Culture, to paint the new ceiling of the Palais Garnier in Paris. 

Chagall’s style 

Chagall’s unique style is characterized by his combination of influences, from Fauvist and Cubist techniques to Eastern European and Jewish folk art. In particular, he is renowned for his use of color, with Picasso being noted to have said: “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.” He was also described as “the quintessential Jewish artist” although he personally described his work as “not the dream of one people but of all humanity”.

Chagall village
I and the Village, 1911, Marc Chagall

What’s happening in La Mariée? 

Many of Chagall’s paintings depict couples and young women, however, in La Mariée, Chagall places the focus of the composition entirely on the figure of  La Mariée (The Bride).  La Mariée, painted in oil on a 68 x 53cm canvas, depicts a young woman in a white veil and a bright red dress, floating diagonally from the bottom left into the center of the canvas. Behind her, the composition is dominated by deep swathes of blue. The rest of the canvas includes a male figure who adjusts her veil, a goat playing the violin, a fish conducting an orchestra, a man playing the flute, a rooster and a shadow of a girl with pigtails, all of whom are floating above a city landscape.

The surreal and ethereal qualities of the composition, particularly the contrast between the deep blue background and the bright red wedding dress, all serve to place the emphasis on the figure of the bride. Therefore, it seems as though Chagall intended to present her to the viewer as if she were our bride. The contrasting colors also create a contrast of emotions within the painting, leaving the overall meaning of  La Mariée rather ambiguous. Some think that La Mariée shows a tantalizing image of loss, due to the contrast between the joyful red figure of the bride who remains in the blue melancholy of the background. 

Overall, La Mariée can be interpreted as a metaphor for the painter’s work, as it dwells in a realm between reality and imagination, between emotions and striking colors.  La Mariée currently resides in a private collection and was estimated by Christie’s to be worth between $500,000 and $1 million. 

View works inspired by Chagall here.