Last night I was watching the old rom-com film Notting Hill. I had seen it before but sometimes when you watch a film a second or third time one notices new things about it. Last night I noticed the Marc Chagall painting La Mariée that Julie Roberts gave Hugh Grant so I thought I would make it the subject of My Daily Art Display today.
Reading some of the press releases at the time regarding the film I note that the choice of painting was that of the film’s screenwriter, Richard Curtis, who was a fan of Chagall and he wanted one that depicted a yearning for something that is lost. However to include such a picture, or a copy of it, in the film the producers had to get permission from the owner of the original, a private collector in Japan and the Design and Artists Copyright Society. Agreement was reached but one proviso which was stipulated was that after filming the copy of the painting used in the film had to be destroyed !
Marc Chagall, a Russian Jew, was born in Vitebsk in Belarus in 1887 to a poor Jewish family and was eldest of nine children. After finishing at school he decided to study art, much to his father’s annoyance. He went to St Petersburg and studied art under Leon Bakst, the Russian painter, set and costume designer. In 1910 he moved to Paris and joined an avant-garde group which included Modigliani, Robert Delauney and Fernand Léger and soon became one of the most successful artists of the twentieth century. His works were unique and distinctive and he worked in many mediums besides fine art painting. He illustrated books and worked with ceramics and stained glass, producing windows for the cathedrals at Metz and Reims as well as windows for the United Nations.
He was a pioneer of Modernism and one of the precursors of Surrealism. Chagall achieved recognition and with it came affluence. The art historian Michael Lewis said that Chagall was “the last survivor of the first generation of European Modernists and for decades had also been respected as the world’s pre-eminent Jewish artist”.
He visited his homeland Russia on a number of occasions and set up and became the director of the Free Academy of Art in his home town of Vitebsk. He returned to France in 1922 and remained there except for the war years in the 1940’s when he fled to America. Chagall was very affected by the Nazi atrocities during that time and some of his paintings depicted the horror of the Nazi rise of power and the ensuing martyrdom of the Jewish people.
Chagall died in Saint Paul de Vence in 1985, just two months short of his ninety-eighth birthday.
Today’s painting; La Mairée features a young woman in her bright vivid red wedding dress clutching her bouquet of flowers. Her long white veil covers her head and reaches down to her feet. In contrast, the background is a mixture of blues and grays. The background, coloured as it is, evokes the darkness of night and in some ways a feeling of sorrowfulness and gloom whereas the colours used with the bride suggest a sense of elation and happiness. It is this dissimilarity of the background colours and the colours of her dress which also projects the image of the woman towards us. She is being presented to us, the observers, by the man in such a noticeable and confident way that makes us believe that she is our bride and we are the groom.
To the right of the woman is a goat playing a cello. This strange combination of an animal playing a musical instrument was often used by 20th century European artists. A fish leaps high and looks as if it is conducting the music. A table floats above the fish. To the right of the goat we can see a man playing what looks like a clarinet. The man hovering above the woman, presents her to us and as he adjusts her veil. If we look carefully to the right of the picture we can just make out a church. I suppose this was a requirement for a “wedding picture” but the way it has been squeezed into the painting makes me wonder if this was added by Chagall as an afterthought.