Marc Chagall Biography

Brief information

Born in Vitebsk, Russia, 7 July 1887; naturalized French citizen, 1937. Died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, 28 March 1985. Married Bella Rosenfeld, 1915 (died, 1944), one daughter; lived with Virginia Leirens, 1945-52, one son; married Vava Brodsky, 1952. Studied with the painter Jehuda Pen, Vitebsk, 1906; Imperial School for the Protection of Arts. St. Petersburg. 1907-08, and privately with Saidenberg and Leon Bakst. 1908-09; lived in Paris, 1910-13; lived in St. Petersburg, 1915-17, and Vitebsk, 1917-20: Commissar for Art in Vitebsk, 1918. and founder of the Vitebsk Academy (El Lissitsky and Malevich were staff members). 1919-20; in Moscow, 1920-22: first stage designs for Kameray State Jewish Theatre (later designs for ballets Aleko, 1942, The Firebird, 1949, and Daphnis et Chloe, 1958, and the opera The Magic Flute, 1967); lived in Berlin, 1922-23, then settled in Paris, 1923-41; lived in the United States, 1941-48, then in Saint- Paul-de-Vence after 1950: first sculptures, 1951. and stained glass designs, 1957; established Musee National Message Biblique. Nice. 1972.


Major Collection: Nice: Musee National Message Biblique. Other Collections: Basel: Berlin: Nationalgalerie; Cologne; Grenoble; Jerusalem: Hadassah Medical Center synagogue; Leningrad: Russian Museum; Los Angeles; Mainz: S. Stephan; Metz: Cathedral; New York: Moma, Guggenheim, Metropolitan Opera House; Paris: Beaubourg, Opera; Tel Aviv.

The Art

Marc Chagall was one of a number of immigrant artists who came to Paris in the early 20th century in search of the artistic centre of Europe. By the time of his arrival there in 1910 he had a distinctive body of work behind him drawn from Jewish folk-lore, childhood memories of Vitebsk, and personal fantasy. He now had to come to terms for the first time with the mainstream of modern European art and particularly with Cubism, which placed its emphasis on an aesthetic apparently poles apart from Chagalls Russian-Jewish subjects and imagination. However, in his writings Chagall has indicated that what interested him in Cubism was not the realism of objects literally perceived from different angles, but a "realism of the psyche." He wanted to dissociate himself from the academic interpreters of Picasso and Braque and to locate his painting within that "other movement" to which he had been introduced by the poets Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars. This "other movement" was concerned with the invention of a new language in painting and poetry for transforming conventional ways of thinking about the world and conventional means of representing it.

Chagall was attracted to the most radical capacities of Cubism, and in the period immediately after his arrival in Paris developed its flattened space, fragmented and transparent objects, and startling juxtapositions into a means of psychological and imaginative exploration. This new approach to structure was to expand enormously the earlier work which had the basic life events, love, death, birth, marriage, as its subject matter. In the early St. Petersberg paintings, for example. The Dead Man, 1908, separate images tend to focus on particular aspects of experience. A distinct cluster of associations and thoughts is concentrated on, for example, the self-abandoned violin player on the rooftops, the screaming woman, the nonchalant street sweeper. These contrasts in form and meaning give the images an intensified, mutually heightened effect that is not able to be contained within any overall narrative unity. In these early paintings, images seem to be bursting at the seams. After 1910 Cubism confers a radical mobility on the relationships between these enlarged concentrated clusters of meaning.

In the paintings from the period 1910-14. the physical restrictions of the seen world give way to the demands of imagination. Cubism provides the means for breaking up the given unities of objects and space. Distinctions between up and down, in front, behind, figure and ground are no longer binding. This enables Chagall to merge images together so that opposites can share the same meaning. In / and the Village, 1911, for example, an animal with a human eye is also a woman. Memories of Vitebsk strung partly upside down along the top edge of the picture have their visual conterpart in the blossoming branch held in the foreground. The Cubist circle within which the main motifs of the painting intersect brings its contrasting ideas, memories, and symbols together into a new fusion.

The major themes of Chagall's poetic mythology, pairs of lovers, artist and muse, acrobats, animals, and flowers, together with images invoking Paris, Russia, and Judaism, remain constant throughout his career. But the hard edges and geometry of Cubism give way ircreasing to structures based on color. From the late 1940's. Chagall often described the process of painting in terms of "chemistry," suggesting, like the solve et coagula of the alchemists, a process through which elements combine to produce new forms by first being broken down and dissolved. The increasing "abstractness" of form in Chagall's later paintings where brushstrokes become more separate and discrete, and where color is only very loosely identified with images and spaces, takes his painting toward such a state of dissolution. this document was written for In these paintings images seem to be formed out of color rather than being filled in by it. The drawing follows the demands of color relationships. In major paintings such as All Around Her. 1945, brushstrokes have an increasing presence and images seem to rise to the surface through transparent layers of color. In the paintings produced in the years before his death zones of color are independent of images or depicted space. In Rest. 1975, within large areas of red, blue, or green, details of a reclining woman, a landscape, and a figure with an animal are defined by drawing. But although the drawing belongs to the color, it neither limits it nor defines it. The figure of the woman appears to be crystallised out of the red in such a way that the making of images seems to be about the associations, thoughts, and feelings that are generated by the colors themselves.