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A Closer Look

Chagall's “Double Portrait with Wine Glass”

“I had only to open my window, and blue air, love and flowers entered with her. She seemed to float over my canvases, guiding my art.” — Marc Chagall

In 1914 Chagall returned to his hometown of Vitebsk to marry his sweetheart, the beautiful, educated Bella Rosenfeld. This large painting commemorates their wedding day. Despite a backdrop of war and revolution, Chagall infused the work with unbounded joy, sensuality and optimism for a life together with his beloved.

Wedding portraits are common in the history of art. But never before had an artist chosen to depict the groom balancing on the shoulders of his bride. This unique solution/pose may refer to the Jewish wedding rite when the couple is carried and thrown into the air by their guests. Or does it more explicitly represent the key role that Bella played in her husband’s life as both muse and support?

“Only you – you are with me,” Chagall wrote in his memoirs. “When I gaze earnestly at you, it seems to me that you are my work… Guide my hand. Take the paintbrush and, like the leader of an orchestra, carry me off to far and unknown regions.”

Bella floats over Vitebsk and the Dvina River which bisects it. Chagall smiles and raises his glass to toast their new life, happily married and freed by the Revolution from czarist restrictions placed upon all Jewish people. Above them hovers an angel, a reference to their baby daughter Ida.

Bella brought enormous security and tranquility into Chagall’s life. When she died in 1944, he was devastated. His vital link to Jewish Russia was gone.

“I have lost,” he wrote, “the one who was everything to me – my eyes and my soul.”

Chagall's “Blue Circus”

“For me, a circus is a magic show that appears and disappears like a world. A circus is disturbing. It is profound.”
“I can still see in Vitebsk, my hometown, in a poor street with only three or four spectators, a man
performing with a little boy and a little girl. Clowns, bareback riders and acrobats have made
themselves at home in my visions. Why? Why am I so touched by their makeup and their grimaces?
With them I can move toward new horizons. Lured by their colours and makeup, I dream of
painting new psychic distortions. Alas, in my lifetime I have seen a grotesque circus: a man [Hitler] roared to terrify the world.”
“A revolution that does not lead to its ideal is, perhaps, a circus too.”
“I wish I could hide all these troubling thoughts and feelings in the opulent tail of a circus horse
and run after it, like a clown, begging for mercy, begging to chase the sadness from the world.”

— Marc Chagall, 1966

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