French-Russian Draftsman, Painter, and Printmaker
Vitebsk, Russian Empire (present day Belarus)
Summary of Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall's poetic, figurative style made him one of most popular modern artists, while his long life and varied output made him one of the most internationally recognized. While many of his peers pursued ambitious experiments that led often to abstraction, Chagall's distinction lies in his steady faith in the power of figurative art, one that he maintained despite absorbing ideas from Fauvism and Cubism. Born in Russia, Chagall moved to France in 1910 and became a prominent figure within the so-called Ecole de Paris. Later he spent time in the United States and the Middle East, travels which reaffirmed his self-image as an archetypal "wandering Jew."
- Chagall worked in many radical modernist styles at various points throughout his career, including Cubism, Suprematism and Surrealism, all of which possibly encouraged him to work in an entirely abstract style. Yet he rejected each of them in succession, remaining committed to figurative and narrative art, making him one of the modern period's most prominent exponents of the more traditional approach.
- Chagall's Jewish identity was important to him throughout his life, and much of his work can be described as an attempt to reconcile old Jewish traditions with styles of modernist art. However, he also occasionally drew on Christian themes, which appealed to his taste for narrative and allegory.
- In the 1920s, Chagall was claimed as a kindred spirit by the emerging Surrealists, and although he borrowed from them, he ultimately rejected their more conceptual subject matter. Nevertheless, a dream-like quality is characteristic of almost all of Chagall's work; as the poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire once said, Chagall's work is "supernatural."
Biography of Marc Chagall
“Lines, angles, triangles, squares, carried me far away to enchanting horizons,” Chagall said of his childhood, and, as a young artist in Paris, he used those lines and geometric angles to imaginatively return to that Russian village life in his fantastic creations.
Important Art by Marc Chagall
This early work clearly shows both the Cubist and Fauvist influences at play in Chagall's canvas, yet unlike the works of Picasso or Matisse, Chagall is far more playful and liberal with decorative elements, creating a pastoral paradise out of the Russian countryside. It is an early sign of the approach that would make the artist famous and influential: a blend of the modern and the figurative, with a light, whimsical tone. Chagall depicts a fairy tale in which a cow dreams of a milk maid and a man and wife (one upright, one upside down) frolic in the work fields. Abstraction is at the heart of this work, but it exists to decorate the picture rather than invite analysis of the images.
Paris Through the Window appears to reflect upon Chagall's feeling of divided loyalties - his love both for modern Paris and for the older patterns of life back in Russia. Hence the figure in the bottom right looks both ways, and the couple below the Eiffel Tower seems to be split apart. Upon first glance, the picture may recall one of Robert Delaunay's many fractured portraits of the Eiffel Tower, rendered in a style often referred to as Orphic Cubism. But Chagall makes no attempt here to dissect the subject or view it from multiple angles. Instead he searches for beauty in the details, creating what writer Guillaume Apollinaire called "sur-naturalist" elements, such as a two-faced head and floating human figure. The end result is a brilliantly balanced and visually appealing snapshot of Paris, juxtaposing the imaginary and the real, all seen through eyes that are both eccentric and loving.
This portrait of Chagall's first wife, Bella, whom he married in the summer of 1915, also doubles as a love letter of sorts. Her demure face and figure stand over a lush pastoral landscape, larger than life, and may have been inspired by the traditional subject, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Chagall once remarked that, "Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love." Bella with White Collar, while certainly expressive and vibrant, stands as a lasting example of Chagall's mastery of more traditional subjects and forms, yet he no less maintains the faintest of sur-naturalist elements throughout. At Bella's feet we can see two tiny figures which presumably represent Chagall and the couple's daughter, Ida.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Marc Chagall
- My Life
- Chagall: A BiographyBy Jackie Wullschlager
- Marc Chagall (Jewish Encounters)By Jonathan Wilson
- Marc ChagallBy Jean-Michel Foray, Meret Meyer Graber, Jakov Bruk
- Marc Chagall: The Lost Jewish WorldOur Pick
- The Bible: Genesis, Exodus, The Song of Solomon
- Drawings for the Bible
- Unseen works by Marc Chagall reveal artist's enduring love affairOur PickBy Roya Nikkhah / The Telegraph / May 15, 2011
- Marc Chagall Windows Reinstalled in ChicagoDaily Herald / October 29, 2010
- Big Chagall Show is SFMoMA's Most PopularBy Kenneth Baker / SFGate.com / November 11, 2003
- The Finer Shade of ChagallBy Matt Schudel / Sun Sentinel / January 27, 2002
- Marc Chagall: Hail and FarewellBy William Wilson / Los Angeles Times / April 7, 1985
- Marc ChagallChicago Tribune / March 31, 1985