by Justin Chae
One of the most renown artists of the early to mid 20th century, Marc Chagall’s masterpieces are found across Europe and the world in various museums and buildings. Chagall was born in 1887 in the city of Liozna, Russia. The eldest of nine children, Marc Chagall lived a taxing childhood, having to fight for education and equal opportunities due to his Jewish background. At the age of 13, his mother had to bribe the headmaster of the local high school to allow Chagall to attend. In an examination of Chagall’s life written by Jacob Baal-Teshuva, it is stated that the main turning point of Chagall’s artistic life took place at this high school when he noticed a fellow student’s drawing, stating that this moment was an immediate revelation and a completely new concept introduced into his life. He immediately began going to the local library to find images in books, copying these pictures as practice until he decided to devote himself to becoming an artist.
Marc Chagall moved to Paris in 1910, an era where Cubism was becoming the leading movement in art across Europe. Speaking no French, Chagall worked his way to adapt to Cubism, also enrolling in the prestigious Ecole de Paris art academy. In his early paintings during these years such as Half Past Three (1911), one can notice the abstract and dynamic nature of Cubism.
Although Chagall followed the manners of Cubism in breaking up objects and reassembling them into unique forms for several years, he began to reject many of the trends that Cubism was inducing and started to revert back to his own unique style of adding emotion, vibrant colors, and humor into his works (Wolf). Although Chagall was completely surrounded by French culture, he remained in touch with his Russian roots and used subjects from back home in his later paintings, such as village scenes, fiddlers, and freely floating figures that possibly indicate his longing to return back home.
Along with Cubism, Chagall was strongly influenced by Surrealism as well, a movement inspired by imagination and intriguing the conscious mind. He adapted these styles for the early 1920’s, seen in works such as the Green Violinist (1923). The Russian roots are clearly exhibited in this work, and fiddlers on rooftops were a popular motif of Chagall's, stemming from his memories of Vitebsk and the Russian countryside he called home as a child. Chagall’s connection to his Jewish cultural roots is also apparent in the themes present in the artwork, and the Surrealist influence is seen in the literal color of the subject along with the fantastical atmosphere of the piece as a whole. Appropriately, the very well known and celebrated musical Fiddler on the Roof received its name from one of Chagall's painting.
As turmoil began to break out across Europe during the mid 1900’s, Chagall’s works began to lean heavily towards religious-themed subjects, depicting scenes from the Old Testament and creating etchings and other different forms of media. His style remained fairly consist for a large portion of his life during this time, represented in works such as White Crucifixion (1938), which contain a mix of very realistic elements as well as various abstractions that complement and help develop the scene and tone of composition. After the conflicts began to settle down, Chagall devoted his later years in life to major works commissioned by international organizations such as the United Nations, for whom he created the large stained-glass piece Peace (1964).Chagall also helped develop a series of 17 bliblical themed paintings which he offered to the French State in 1966. These collections along with several elaborate mosaics and glass works can be now seen at the Musée Marc Chagall, known also as the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum. These works can be seen in photographs taken by me at the museum, with my favorite piece being the harpsichord decorated on the interior by another one of Chagall’s airy, light themed biblical depictions. In conclusion, I believe that Marc Chagall is one of the most unique artists with very interesting works that span across an extensive time period, adapt to changing trends, yet maintain Chagall’s signature characteristics throughout his lifetime.
Harpsichord painted by Chagall depicting a dream-like, biblical scene
Example of two of Chagall’s 17 biblical paintings from later in his life found at Musée Marc Chagall
Extremely elaborate mosaic at Musée Marc Chagall depicting a symbolic circle of life including various animals and wildlife on the outer circle.
Baal-Teshuva, Jacob. Marc Chagall, Taschen (1998, 2008)
Wolf, Justin. "Marc Chagall Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works." The Art Story. The Art Story Foundation, n.d. Web. http://www.theartstory.org/artist-chagall-marc.htm 13 Feb. 2017.