Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Russia in 1887 and lived to be 97 years old. The style shown in Marc Chagall’s famous paintings, while reflective of cubist, expressionist and surrealist affinities, is distinctly personal. His contribution to early modern painting and printmaking has been of the first order. Chagall studied briefly with a local artist in Vitebsk, and in 1908 studied at the academy in St. Petersburg. In 1910, he went to Paris, where he would live for most of the rest of his long life. There, he met the poets Max Jacob, Blaise Centrars and Andre Salmeon and the painters Modigliani, Delaunay, LaFresnaye, and other cubists and independents. The complexities of Chagall’s aesthetics are apt to be obscured somewhat by the whimsical fantastic subject matter. Although cubism had an early and formative influence upon his works, it did not detract from his uniqueness of expression. The impact of cubist structure and spatial handling is evident in Marc Chagall’s famous paintings such as I and my Village (1911) and Over Vitebsk (1916), both in the New York Museum of Modern Art. Thereafter, his style becomes increasingly unique and the cubist aspects operate less evidently.
Appollinaire introduced Chagall to Herwarth Walden, the German publisher and dealer, in Berlin in 1914. This resulted in Marc Chagall painting and exhibiting in his first one-man show in the same year. He returned to Russia to marry. After the revolution of 1917, he was appointed Commissar of Fine Arts for Vitebsk and founded an art school there. He designed murals for the Moscow Jewish Theatre in 1922 and then left for Paris by way of Berlin, where he stayed long enough to make engravings as illustrations for a book. The poet Cendrars was responsible for Chagall’s meeting with the dealer Ambroise Vollard. His first retrospective exhibition was given at the Galerie Barbazange-Hodebert, Paris in 1924. Marc Chagall’s famous painting style became increasingly romantic and devoted to fantastic narratives during the middle 1920s. Chagall’s first lithography plates (30 in all 1922-23) were executed in crayon on lithographic paper. The Jewish Wedding (1926), a gouache and chalk composition, disclosed another tendency of his Russian origin. His first New York show dates from 1926. In 1927, he undertook the illustration of La Fontaine’s Fables, completing the 100 plates in 1930. In 1931, he traveled to Palestine and Syria to study themes for Biblical engravings, another Vollard commission.
By now, Chagall had become internationally famous, and a large retrospective in 1933 at the Basel Art Museum increased his prestige. He was disquieted, however, by political developments in Europe during the early 1930s and the increasingly severe persecution and threat of war lead him to paint religious works of a darkly exciting kind. His apprehensions were aggravated by a visit to Poland in 1935.
In 1939, the first prize in the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, was given to Chagall, and in 1941, he settled in the United States at the invitation of the Museum of Modern Art. At first rejuvenated by his new environment, he was deeply saddened by the death of his wife in 1944. Before returning to Paris in 1946, he completed the sets for Stravinsky’s Firebird and other theatrical designs. He also produced 13 color lithographs for One Thousand and One Nights. On his return to Paris, Chagall went to master printer Mourlot, who was responsible for the revival of lithography after the war.
Chagall had retrospective shows in 1947 in Paris, Amsterdam, and London, and was represented at the 1948 Venice Biennial. In 1949, he worked in Venice, primarily with ceramics. In that year, he also painted an important canvas, The Red Sun. This was an allegory invoking memories of his late wife and the rich colored imagery of Russian folk fantasy, which was always so much a part of his art.
1950-1952 Workshop in rue Chabrol
1952 First color print, The Artist with Palette
1955-1956 Verve Magazine publishes 18 color and 12 black-and-white lithographs
1958-1960 80 color and 23 black and white Biblical drawings for Verve
1957-1960 Daphnis and Chloe published by Teriade. 42 illustrations, 26 small, 16 double-page
1967 The Circus
1967 The Land of the Gods
The 1950s brought additional honors to Chagall, not the least of which was the commission from the Joseph Neufeld and the Women’s Zionist Organization of America to design 12 stained glass windows for the synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center near Jerusalem.
Chagall had the rare ability to start each morning fresh as if each day was the first. He saw each flower as the most brilliant, each fruit as the sweetest, and each woman as the most beautiful, evident in every one of Marc Chagall’s famous paintings.
The final Marc Chagall painting was a commissioned piece for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Chagall titled the painting Job, but didn’t live to see the tapestry finished. Marc Chagall died in 1985 in France, outliving the other European modernists, including Joan Miro.
Guggenheim Hermitage Museum
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
National Gallery of Canada
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania
California State University Library
Cleveland Museum of Art
Dixon Gallery and Gardens
E.G. Buhrle Collection
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Goteborg Museum of Art
Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo
Museum of Fine Arts
Musée National Message Biblique
Oglethorpe University Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Saginaw Art Museum
San Diego Museum of Art
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
State Russian Museum
Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art
Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Arts, University of Montana
Wright Museum of Art, Beloit College
Art Institute of Chicago