"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.
The Wedding, 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.