In 1968, Marc Chagall visited the Washington, DC, home of his friends and patrons Evelyn and John Nef and decided that he would design a mosaic for their garden. There the work remained until it was given to the National Gallery of Art by Evelyn (1913–2009) as part of a larger bequest.
The mosaic's large scale—approximately 10 by 17 feet and 1,000 pounds—is belied by its ethereal figures and shimmering surface. The colorful, layered narratives are loosely drawn from Greek mythology and from the artist's personal experience. At center, Orpheus charms animals with his lute, accompanied by the Three Graces and the winged stallion Pegasus. In the bottom left corner of the mosaic, a group of people wait to cross a large body of water. According to Chagall, this alludes not only to the general immigration of Europeans to America, but also to his own experience: smuggled out of Nazi-occupied France by the International Rescue Committee during World War II, the Jewish artist found safe haven in New York. In the lower right corner, two lovers nestle in the greenery. Evelyn asked the artist if the figures depicted her and John; Chagall replied, "If you like."