PRINT Summer 1985

Farewell to Marc Chagall

MARC CHAGALL LOVED FLOWERS. He delighted in their aroma, in contemplating their colors. For a long time, certainly after 1948 when he moved for good to the South of France after his wartime stay in the US, there were always flowers in his studio. In his work bouquets of flowers held a special place. They were a source of inspiration for this genial Russian painter, born of poor parents in Vitebsk in 1887. Usually they created a sense of joy, but they could also reflect the melancholy of memories, the sadness of separations, of solitude, if not suffering or tragedy.

His wife Vava, of the beautiful iconlike face, was with him when he died in his villa “La Colline” at St. Paul de Vence, the proud medieval town which looks like a long stone boat that juts from a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean. That same afternoon the artist was still at work, as if an eternity of life remained before him. On the morning of Monday, April 1, during the funeral service the gladdening spring sun shone out over the village. Doves hovered in the sky as if giving a fond signal of farewell. A part of the cemetery was transformed into a dazzling garden of countless flowers, the homage of hundreds upon hundreds of people, well-known and unknown, gathered there from around the world.

Chagall was one of the last great painters to span the 20th century. He was to change Modern art with an ineradicable hand. His fantasic vision of a world in which animals are the customary partners of man was all his own, unclassifiable and inimitable. It unfolds in a realm where the present merges with immemorial concerns which transport us beyond our earth, beyond our sky, to enable us by his interpretations of myths and Bible mysteries to grasp at the ungraspable of the world.

Although this mystical painter was nourished by Hebraic culture from his earliest childhood and drew on works of Christian inspiration as well as of pagan Greece, both Apollonian and Dionysian, he could only have followed one religion, that of loving and love. He was for me a great friend. I remember a visit to “La Colline” some time ago. He had taken a painting from his studio and placed it against a tree trunk next to plants and flowers. He said, “If my painting holds up in nature, if it doesn’t disturb the harmony, then it is real, and perhaps one day I could put my name to it.”

André Verdet is an artist living in St. Paul de Vence.

Translated from the French by Anthony Korner.