Occupation: Painting, Stained Glass, Sculpture
Movement: Cubism, Expressionism
Education: Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting
Marc Chagall’s dreamy, poetic landscapes fused with religion and fantasy made him one of the most celebrated Russian artists of the 20th century. His work spans a variety of mediums (as with many early Modernists) including painting, production design, stained glass, ceramic, tapestries and illustrations. His art is characterized by strong, bright colors and images suffused with a child-like joyousness.
“Nature Morte,” 1910-14
“Le Village Russe, de la Lune,” 1911
“Au Dessus de la Ville,” 1915
“Auto-Portrait avec Palette,” 1917
“Jour de Fete (Le Rabvin au Citron,” 1924
“Les Trois Acrobate,” 1926
“Le Grand Cirque,” 1956
The eldest of nine children, Moishe Segal was born in July of 1887 to a poor Hassidic family in Liozna, near the city of Vitebsk. His father worked for a herring merchant while his mother sold groceries from their house. His grandfather was employed as a cantor in a synagogue. Vitebsk had a population of less than 70,000 at the time, and more than half that population was Jewish. Hence Chagall grew up in a deeply religious community that had had its roots in Belarus for over 150 years, and the influence of that culture is imprinted upon his work.
He attended Jewish primary school as a child before bribing his way into a secular gymnasium, even though Tsarist Russian disallowed such intermingling. In 1906, he was admitted into Yehuda Pen’s private art school for two months.
The next year Chagall moved to the Russian capital with 27 rubles in his pockets. The policy regarding the movement of Jewish citizens was more discriminatory at that time and the young artist resorted to begging favors from influential members of his community. He lived on a stringent budget, often going hungry, but he found himself at the vortex of a cultural and political revolution. Magazines expounded the tenets of French Fauvism, Italian Futurism, German Expressionism – introducing new ideas to a new generation.
Chagall absorbed the fresh concepts put in front of him while developing his own reference points that were based in the past. For two years he studied art at Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting while working at the Jewish magazine Voskhod in an editorial capacity. He attended workshops and courses by artist Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, and in 1910 mounted his first exhibition at the editorial office of the magazine Apollon.
It was during his time in St. Petersburg that Chagall met Bella Rosenfeld, the daughter of a jeweler, and fell in love. Although they would not marry till 1915, she became Chagall’s muse and her influence on his internal world is evident in his work.
Maxim Vinaver, a prominent Jewish lawyer and leader, offered the young painter a scholarship in 1910, and Chagall moved to Paris to rent a studio. During his time there, he attended various lectures and classes at free academies, visited exhibitions and salons in the day and painted by night. He began living in a building called La Rouche, which served as an art center for poor foreign painters and Parisian bohemians. His closeness to the poets and painters of the day resulted in an accelerated output of many seminal pieces within a short period of time, including “The Violinist”, “To My Betrothed”, “Paris Through the Window”, “Golgotha”, “The Pinch of Snuff”, “The Cattle Dealer” and “I and the Village”.
Marc Chagall exhibited scores of canvases and over one hundred watercolors in Berlin in 1914. A few more casual shows along with other artists were popular with the public and commercially successful. He returned to Vitebsk the following year to marry Bella and visit his family. But the First World War started and delayed Chagall’s return to Europe indefinitely.
The World Wars
With the help of his wife’s brother, Chagall avoided enlistment in the army by finding work at the Military Industrial Committee as a painter. He spent the next eight years of his life living and working in Moscow. Chagall only returned to France with his family in 1923 and in the subsequent years created “The Bible” illustrations. But by the late 1930s, the Nazis gained power, and once the Second World War started, he once more had to be hurriedly extricated from France, along with other artists, through a rescue operation run by the Americans. His work from this difficult political period was multidimensional – some paintings are charged with a new energy for everyday life while others reflect grief and hardship. The increasing persecution of Jews resulted in a number of intensely religious pieces, including “Red Jew” and “The Feast of the Tabernacles”. Chagall also focused on his personal love for his wife, using her as a model for “Bella with White Collar” and finding inspiration in their relationship for “Pink Lovers” and “Birthday”.
The Last Years
It was in August 1944 that the family learnt that Paris had been finally liberated from the Nazis. They were impatient to return to France, but within days of learning of the end of the war, Bella passed away of sepsis. Struck with grief, Chagall produced two works in memory of his first love: “Around Her” and “The Wedding Lights”.
Marc Chagall continued to work well into his late nineties, creating paintings, mosaics, sculptures and sets. He died in the elevator of his studio building, after a long day of hard work.
1887 - Born in Vitebsk
1907 - Attends the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts
1918 - Establishes the Vitebsk Popular Art School
1927 - Co-founds the Association des Peintres-Graveurs
1939 - Receives a gold medal from the Carnegie Foundation
1948 - Awarded the Grand Prix de Gravure at the Venice Biennale
1959 - Elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
1977 - Receives the Grand Cross of the Legion d’Honneur
1985 - Pases away in Saint-Paul-de-Vence
1912 - Salon des Independants, Paris
1912 - Salon d’Automne, Paris
1913 - Der Sturm, Berlin
1924 - Galerie Barbazanges-Hodebert, Paris
1926 - Reinhardt Gallery, New York
1933 - Kunsthalle Basel
1938 - Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
1946 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
1947 - Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris
1959 - Louvre Museum, Paris
1970 - Musee du Grand-Palais, Paris
1985 - Philadelphia Museum of Art
2006 - Tale Art Museum, Lillestrom
2008 - Museo d’Arte di Nuoro
2012 - Nassau County Museum of Art
2013 - Musee National du Luxembourg, Paris
Museums / collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Tate Gallery, London
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires
Museo Thyssen-Bornmisza, Madrid
Books / publications
“Chagall” by Ingo D. Walther and Rainer Metzger
“The Bible: Genesis, Exodus, The Song of Solomon” by Marc Chagall
“Marc Chagall: My Life” by Mac Chagall and Elisabeth Abbott
“Marc Chagall” by Mike Venezia
“Marc Chagall” by Franz Meyer
“I Am Marc Chagall” by Marc Chagall and Bimba Landmann
“Dreamer from the Village: The Story of Marc Chagall” by Michelle Markel and Emily Lisker