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RSW Living Magazine

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens - Marc Chagall in bloom, historical exhibit runs through late July

May 22, 2017 09:10AM ● By Kevin

William and Marie Selby left their Sarasota home and grounds "for the enjoyment of the general public." Its nearly 15 acres today accommodate a research center, exhibits and gardens for some 140,000 annual visitors. Photo by Matthew Holler, courtesy of Selby Gardens.

Reproductions of Chagall's stained-glass work create dramatic effects as the sun shifts throughout the day. Photo by Matthew Holler, courtesy of Selby Gardens.

To say that the artist Marc Chagall appreciated nature might be a bit of an understatement. After all, the modernist once proclaimed, “Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers―and never succeeding.”

Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens saw an opportunity to explore the Russian-French artist and his work in a way that had never been done. “Marc Chagall has been studied many, many times,” says Jennifer O. Rominiecki, Selby Gardens’ president and CEO. “But he has never been studied in the context of his love of flowers and his love of nature. So this exhibit is a history-making moment.”

“Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams” runs through July 31. The influential 20th-century artist’s work and words have been woven throughout the nearly 15-acre site, which features plantings reminiscent of Chagall’s beloved French Riviera. “The intimacy of our gardens is really conducive to a garden-wide interpretation,” says Rominiecki.

Selby’s glass-walled conservatory has been transformed into a “cathedral of plants.” Orchids and other colorful blossoms intermix with reproductions of six stained-glass pieces Chagall created for churches and a synagogue, which create different effects depending on the time of day. “The color and light just absolutely dapple throughout the conservatory,” says Rominiecki.

Cypress trees, bougainvillea and other plantings form vignettes throughout the gardens’ grounds that bring a French Riviera feel to Florida’s Gulf Coast. Date palms sway in the breeze at a point overlooking Sarasota Bay, and neat rows of salvia evoke a field of French lavender (which would have been too temperamental for these parts).

Chagall's The Lovers centerpieces the exhibit. Chagall is a modernist master whose work fetch millions of dollars at auction. Painting courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / Artists Rights Society / New York / ADAGP, Paris / Chagall.

In the gardens’ Payne Mansion, 16 archival photos selected by Chagall’s estate help illustrate the Lithuanian-born artist’s life and career, which took him to Russia, France, New York and finally back to the Cote d’Azur. He died in France in 1985. Also on display: four vases used by Chagall to collect the blooms he often painted.

The exhibit’s centerpiece is Chagall’s masterwork The Lovers, painted in 1937 around the time he obtained his French citizenship. The artist and his first wife, Bella, float amid a large bouquet of red and white flowers against a blue background; they overlook a village reminiscent of his Lithuanian birthplace. Two other Chagall paintings on view—Bouquets of Lilacs at Saint-Paul and Couple with Lilies of the Valley—come from a private collection and have never been shown.

Throughout the exhibit’s run, Selby Gardens will host classes, musical performances and other events. “It is said that when Chagall thought a painting might be finished, he would hold a flower or rock up next to it,” says Dr. Carol Ockman, curator at large for Selby Gardens. “And if it looked good, he would say OK. So nature was the test.”

Written by Beth Luberecki, a Venice, Florida–based freelance writer and regular contributor to TOTI Media.

If You Go

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is located in Sarasota. For more information about the gardens, visit or call 941-366-5731. “Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams” runs through July 31.

"Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams' runs through July 31. Photo by Matthew Holler, courtesy of Selby Gardens.