Russian painter Marc Chagall was one of the great masters of the School of Paris. He was also praised as an influence on surrealism, a twentieth-century artistic movement that expressed the subconscious in wild imagery.
An inspired childhood
Marc Chagall was born Moishe Shagal on July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk, Russia, to a poor Jewish family that included ten children. His father, Zakhar Chagall, worked in a fish factory and his mother, Ida Chagall, worked in the family home and ran a grocery store. The years of his childhood, the family circle, and his native village became the main themes of his art. These first impressions lingered in his mind like original images and were transformed into paintings with such titles as the Candlestick with the Burning Lights, the Cow and Fish Playing the Violin, the Man Meditating on the Scriptures, the Fiddler on the Roof, and I and My Village. According to French poet and critic André Breton (1896–1966), with Chagall "the metaphor [comparison of images] made its triumphant return into modern painting." And it has been said that Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) was a triumph of the mind, but Chagall was the glory of the heart.
Chagall received early schooling from a teacher friend who lived nearby. He then attended the town school, but he only did well in geometry. He became an apprentice (a person who works for another in order to learn a profession) to a photographer but did not like the work. He then decided that he wanted to become an artist and talked his parents into paying for art lessons. He began his artistic instruction under the direction of a painter in Vitebsk. In 1907 he moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he attended the school of the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts and studied briefly with famed Russian painter Leon Bakst (1866–1924). These were difficult years for Chagall. He was extremely poor and was unable to support himself with his artwork. He took a job as a servant and also learned how to paint signs. In Bakst's studio he had his first contact with the modern movement that was sweeping Paris, and it freed his inner resources. His pictures of this early period are pleasant images of his childhood.
With some help from a patron (someone who supported him financially), Chagall went to Paris in 1910. The poets Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961), Max Jacob (1876–1944), and Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918), and the painters Roger de La Fresnaye (1885–1925), Robert Delaunay (1885–1941), and Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) became his friends. Chagall participated in the art showings at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d'Automne in 1912, but it was his first one-man show in Herwarth Walden's Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin, Germany, which established him internationally as a leading artist.
Travels inspired new works
Chagall lived in Russia for the duration of World War I (1914–18). During the Russian Revolution (the uprising to overthrow the government of the czar [Russian king] in 1917) he was made a commissar (an official) for art, but he resigned in 1919 after a clash with the suprematist painters (Russian artists that used nonobjective art and basic geometric shapes). In 1922 Chagall left Russia for good, going to Berlin, Germany and then back to Paris. The art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1865–1939) commissioned (hired) him to illustrate Nikolay Gogol's (1809–1852) "Dead Souls" (ninety-six etchings) in 1923 and "La Fontaine's Fables" (one hundred etchings) in 1927.
A journey to Palestine and Syria in 1931 gave Chagall firsthand knowledge of the land, which he represented in his illustrations for the Bible (1931–1939 and 1952–1956). He is considered the greatest interpreter of the Bible since Rembrandt (1606–1669). He used biblical themes in paintings, graphic works, and stained glass (two windows for the Cathedral in Metz, France, 1960 and 1962; twelve windows for the medical center in Jerusalem, 1961). Chagall started a new series of large paintings, the "Biblical Message," in 1963.
Chagall traveled throughout France and elsewhere from 1932 to 1941, when he settled in the United States, where he remained until 1947. He designed the sets and costumes for the ballets Aleko (1942) and The Firebird (1945). Bella, his beloved wife, inspiration, and model, whom he had married in 1915, died in 1944.
In 1948, the year after Chagall returned to France, he started Arabian Nights, a series of lithographs (prints created by a printing process using stone or metal plates that have been treated so that the image to be printed picks up the ink and the blank area does not). He began working in ceramics in 1950 and made his first sculptures the following year. In 1952 he married Valentina "Vava" Brodsky. His famous "Paris" series, a sequence of fantastic scenes set against the background of views of the city, was created between 1953 and 1956.
Chagall continued to create great artworks throughout the later years of his life. In the 1960s and 1970s, his stained glass art appeared in such buildings as the United Nations (UN) in New York City. In 1973 a museum of his works was opened in Nice, France. In 1977, the Louvre, a world-famous art museum in Paris, exhibited sixty-two of his paintings, an extremely rare event for a living artist. Chagall died at the age of ninety-seven in 1985.
For More Information
Alexander, Sidney. Marc Chagall: A Biography. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978.
Baal-Teshuva. Jacob, Marc Chagall 1887–1985. New York: Random, 1998.
Chagall, Marc. My Life. New York: Orion Press, 1960. Reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
CHAGALL, MARC (1887–1985), artist. Chagall was born in Liozno, Vitebsk in Belorussia; his family name was Segal, and he himself later adopted the spelling "Chagall." His father worked in the warehouse of a herring-monger. Chagall was sent to ḥeder as a child and then attended the public school. There he discovered his talent, and to the alarm of his father, but with his mother's support, he enrolled in the local art school. In the winter of 1906–07, he went to St. Petersburg and was awarded a scholarship to the school sponsored by the Imperial Society for the Furtherance of the Arts. Subsequently, he was greatly stimulated by the instruction he received at the Svanseva School from Leon *Bakst. The lawyer Max Vinaver admired Chagall's talent and gave him a monthly allowance so that he could go to Paris. He stayed in Paris from 1910 to 1914 and in May 1914 held a one-man show in Berlin. He then returned to Vitebsk, and the outbreak of World War i prevented him from going back to Paris. He was drafted into the Czarist army, and was given a desk job in a government office, being able to paint in his free time. In 1915 he married Bella Rosenfeld. In the fall of 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to power, Chagall was appointed commissar for fine arts in Vitebsk, and director of the newly established Free Academy of Art. Later, in Moscow, he was appointed designer for the Chamber State Jewish Theater. But his aesthetics, influenced by the cubism of Picasso, did not please the artistically reactionary party officials and, in the summer of 1922, he left Russia with his family. He stopped in Berlin, where the dealer Paul *Cassirer issued a portfolio of the 20 etchings Chagall had made to illustrate his autobiography, Ma Vie (1931; My Life, 1960).
In 1923, he settled in France. Etchings for deluxe editions of Gogol's Dead Souls and La Fontaine's Fables, and for the Old Testament, commissioned by the dealer, Ambroise Vollard, provided him with funds. Slowly his pictures found buyers, and he gained recognition in France, Germany, and Switzerland. But in Nazi Germany 57 of his works were confiscated from public collections, and some were held up for ridicule in the "Degenerate Art" exhibition at Munich in 1937. Fearing persecution by the Nazis when they invaded France, the Chagalls escaped to the United States, arriving in New York in June, 1941. Bella Chagall died in 1944, shortly after finishing her memoirs, Burning Lights (1946, with illustrations by Chagall). In 1948 Chagall decided to return to France. In 1952 he married Valentine Brodsky. Chagall received commissions to make decorations for a Catholic church in Assy in the French Alps, and to design stained glass windows for the cathedral in Metz, for the synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, and a large glass panel in the entrance to the un Secretariat. He also designed a stained glass panel for the audience hall in the Vatican. He painted a new ceiling for the opera in Paris, murals for the New York Metropolitan Opera House, and contributed a mural, floor mosaics, and designs for the curtains for the new Knesset in Jerusalem. He received many prizes as well as honorary university degrees. In 1967 plans were made for a Chagall Museum at Cimiez, just outside Nice, not far from his permanent residence at Saint-Paul de Vence. The artist donated many of his pictures on biblical themes to this museum.
Chagall's work – mostly paintings in watercolor, gouache, or oil, many etchings and lithographs, but also a few sculptures and ceramics, as well as designs executed by craftsmen in a variety of media – is not easily catalogued. At the very outset of his career he rebelled against the insipid realism that prevailed in Russia about 1900, though his color scheme remained darkish and subdued until his experiences in France allowed him to brighten his palette, especially under the influence of Gauguin. He was influenced by cubism, but his poetic quasi-cubism, with easily recognizable subject matter, was different from the experiments of the more rigid cubists, who whittled down life and content in geometrical patterns. Chagall's large curvilinear forms are arrived at through broad, rich, colors applied with a lyrical, poetic quality. Non-naturalistic colors are generally favored. There is little of the academic painter's orthodox perspective. His Jewish whimsicality is frequently apparent in his work and his simplification often calls to mind what a child or a peasant might have painted. Chagall in his youth must have looked with deep interest at the Russian popular art he encountered in or around Vitebsk.
The preponderance of specifically Jewish subject matter in Chagall's work is significant. He was thoroughly familiar with Jewish customs and his inspiration derived from a clearly definable, specific milieu in a particular period (c. 1887–1907). Though he was inspired by Parisian vistas and by various landscapes in France, the locale for most of Chagall's works is the Jewish quarter of his native city. Equally important is the influence of Ḥasidism which prevailed in his family.
A national museum, the Museum of the Marc Chagall Biblical Message, at Cimiez, near Nice, to house Chagall's work of biblical inspiration, was officially opened on Chagall's 86th birthday, July 7, 1973, by Mr. Maurice Druon, French minister of culture, and the main address was delivered by Andre Malraux. The artist donated many of his pictures on biblical themes to this museum
In 1977, his 90th birthday was celebrated both in Israel and France. In Israel, the Municipality of Jerusalem unanimously decided to confer on him the honor of Yakir Yerushalayim ("worthy of Jerusalem") and, in view of his age, to confer the honor on him in Paris. Chagall, however, insisted on coming to Jerusalem, and the ceremony was held at the presidential residence on Nov. 3, 1977. On the same occasion, the degree of Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa, conferred on him by the Hebrew University on the occasion of its Jubilee in 1975, was formally handed to him. A doctorate, honoris causa, was also conferred on him by the Weizmann Institute of Science, and an exhibition of his works was held at the Tel Aviv Museum. The Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor was conferred on him by France in January 1977, and in October he was honored by an exhibition at the Louvre, an honor never before given to a living artist. Chagall's later work included "The American Windows," which honored the 1976 U.S. bicentennial and Chicago's Mayor Richard J. Daley.
[Rohan Saxena (2nd ed.)]
F. Meyer, Marc Chagall (Eng., 1964); J.J. Sweeney, Marc Chagall (Eng., 1946); L. Venturi, Marc Chagall (Fr., 1956). add. bibliography: S. Alexander, Marc Chagall (Eng., 1978); J.-M. Foray et al. (eds), Marc Chagall (Eng., 2003).
Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Russian painter, was one of the great masters of the School of Paris and was also acclaimed as a forerunner of surrealism.
Marc Chagall was born Moishe Shagal on July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk to a poor Jewish family. The years of his childhood, the family circle, and his native village became the main themes of his art. These first impressions lingered in his mind like primeval images and were transformed into paintings with such titles as the Candlestick with the Burning Lights, the Cow and Fish Playing the Violin, the Man Meditating on the Scriptures, the Fiddler on the Roof, and I and My Village. According to André Breton, with Chagall "the metaphor made its triumphant return into modern painting." And it has been said that Pablo Picasso was a triumph of the mind but Chagall was the glory of the heart.
In 1907 he moved to St. Petersburg, where he attended the school of the imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts and studied briefly with Leon Bakst. These were years of hardship and poverty for Chagall. In Bakst's studio he had his first contact with the modern movement which was sweeping Paris, and it liberated his inner resources. His pictures of this early period are lyrical evocations of his childhood.
With some help from a patron, Chagall went to Paris in 1910. The avant-garde poets Blaise Cendrars, Max Jacob, and Guillaume Apollinaire and the painters Roger de La Fresnaye, Robert Delaunay, and Amedeo Modigliani became his friends. Chagall participated in the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d'Automne in 1912, but it was his first one-man show in Herwarth Walden's Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin which established him internationally as a leading artist.
Travels Inspired New Works
Chagall spent World War I in Russia. During the Revolution he was made a commissar for art but resigned after a clash with the suprematist painters in 1919. In 1922 left Russia for good, going to Berlin and then back to Paris. The art dealer Ambroise Vollard commissioned him to illustrate Gogol's Dead Souls (96 etchings) in 1923 and La Fontaine's Fables (100 etchings) in 1927.
A journey to Palestine and Syria in 1931 gave Chagall firsthand knowledge of the land, which he depicted in his illustrations for the Bible (1931-1939 and 1952-1956). He was the greatest interpreter of the Bible since Rembrandt, and he used biblical themes in paintings, graphic works, and stained glass (2 windows for the Cathedral in Metz, 1960 and 1962; 12 windows for the medical center in Jerusalem, 1961). Chagall started a new series of large paintings, the "Biblical Message," in 1963.
Chagall traveled extensively in France and elsewhere from 1932 to 1941, when he settled in the United States, where he remained until 1947. He designed the sets and costumes for the ballets Aleko (1942) and The Firebird (1945). Bella, his beloved wife, inspiration, and model, whom he had married in 1915, died in 1944.
In 1948, the year after Chagall returned to France, he started his series of lithographs, Arabian Nights. He began working in ceramics in 1950 and made his first sculptures the following year. He married again in 1952 to Valentina "Vava" Brodsky. His famous "Paris" series, a sequence of fantastic scenes set against the background of views of the city, was created between 1953 and 1956.
Honored for His Work
Chagall continued to create great artworks throughout the later years of his life. In the 1960s and 1970s, his stained glass art appeared in such buildings as the United Nations. In 1973, a museum of his works alone was opened in Nice, France. In 1977, the Louvre exhibited 62 of his paintings, an extremely rare event for a living artist. Chagall died at the age of 97 in 1985.
Alexander, Sidney, Marc Chagall: A Biography G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978.
Chagall, Marc, My Life Peter Owen, 1965.
Compton, Susann Chagall Harry N. Abrams, 1985. □
(1887–1985), (Mark Zakharovich Shagal), artist.
Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Russia (now in Belarus), a major center of Jewish culture. In 1906 he attended Yehuda Pen's School of Drawing and Painting in Vitebsk, moving to St. Petersburg the next year. Over the next three years, he attended art classes at Nikolai Roerich's Society for the Encouragement of the Arts and at Savely Zeidenberg's private art academy. He also studied under Mstislav Dobuzhinsky at Elizaveta Zvantseva's art school. In 1910 Chagall left for Paris and settled in the Russian artist colony, La Ruche, in Montmartre. After the opening of his first personal exhibition at the gallery Der Sturm in Berlin in 1914, Chagall made a trip to Russia; the outbreak of World War I made a return to Paris impossible.
Chagall was an enthusiastic supporter of the Russian Revolution and was made the first Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk in 1917. He formed the Vitebsk Popular Art School in 1919 and invited Dobuzhinsky, El Lissitzky, Pen, and Ivan Puni (Jean Pougny) to join the faculty. At the same time, Vera Yermolayeva, also teaching at the school, invited Kazimir Malevich to become a member of the staff. Malevich and his followers formed the Unovis (Affirmers of the New Art) group, devoted to Suprematism and essentially hostile to Chagall's leadership. In 1920, after a power struggle, Chagall resigned his directorship and moved to Moscow, where he worked in the Moscow State Yiddish Theater and the Habimah Theater as a set designer and muralist.
Growing increasingly disenchanted with the turmoil of the new communist state, he left Russia in 1922, immigrating to Berlin. After a year, he returned to Paris to find that many of the paintings he had left there were missing. However, he was still able in 1924 to mount his first major retrospective at the Galerie Barbazanges-Hoderbart. He moved to the United States in 1941, fleeing Nazi occupation, returning in 1948.
See also: kandinsky, vassily vassilievich; malevich, kazimir severinovich
Bessonova, Marina. (1988). Chagall Discovered: From Russian and Private Collections. New York: H. L. Levin.
Harshav, Benjamin. (1992). Marc Chagall and the Jewish Theater. New York: The Guggenheim Museum.
http://www.guggenheimcollection.org; http://www.tate.org.uk; http://www.hadassah.org.il