The Bride and Groom on Cock, 1947 by Marc Chagall

In 1941, artist Marc Chagall and his wife, Bella, were able to escape Nazi-occupied Paris for New York City, at the invitation of Museum of Modern Art director Alfred Barr. Their daughter Ida and her husband followed them to the United States, bringing with them a fully packed crate of Chagall's paintings.

After learning of the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Chagall and Bella made plans to return to France. But just weeks before their scheduled departure, Bella became ill with a viral infection and suddenly died. "Everything went black before my eyes," Chagall wrote of her death. "I am lost." Despondent and unable to paint, the artist canceled his plans to return to Paris. In 1945, distressed by her father's state of mind, Chagall's daughter hired a young French-speaking woman to look after him. The daughter of a British diplomat, the attractive and engaging Virginia Haggard McNeil had studied art in Paris and known such artists as Giacometti and Miró. Now married to an impoverished painter, McNeil was supporting her husband and their young daughter by working as a housekeeper. In time, Chagall and McNeil became romantically involved, and in early 1946 they moved, along with her daughter, to High Falls in New York's Catskills. Later that year, their son, David (named in memory of Chagall's brother), was born. During this time of great joy, writes the show's curator, Susan Tumarkin Goodman, Chagall painted some of his most important American works. That spring also marked the opening of a major exhibition of Chagall's paintings at the Museum of Modern Art.

The year after his son's birth, Chagall reworked and finally finished The Bride and Groom on Cock, which he had begun in 1939 while still in Paris. The painting incorporates elements of nostalgia and richly hued folk-art motifs from Chagall's youth in Russia and reflects a return to his earlier, more colorful and joyful palette. "An affirmation of life, love and fertility," says curator Goodman, the painting signals "the beginning of Chagall's emotional recovery and expresses his newfound relish for life."

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