"The darkness has gathered before my eyes," reads the despairing final sentence that Chagall added to Bella's book, First Encounter
. When it was first published, in 1947, she had already been dead for three years. She had died in
mysterious circumstances, of a viral infection, and all the signs that seemed to betoken a better world had gone. The muse Chagall had so often appealed to left her book as a testament, as a final spur for her husband's work.
, painted shortly after her death in 1944, shows the artist retelling an episode from First Encounter, the marriage of Bella's brother Aaron; yet the light, exhilarated tone of Bella's account, which (like her
husband's autobiography) is marked by a mood of lightheartedness and playful irony, has been displaced by sinister melancholy. Bride and groom incline towards each other almost apathetically, and the angelic musicians might well
be playing a death march as a wedding dance. Private grief had been added to the fateful course of world events and Chagall's pictures at this time all centre upon the death of Bella.