Marc Chagall’s dreamy, poetic landscapes fused with religion and fantasy made him one of the most celebrated Russian artists of the 20th century. Animals, lovers, farmers, and musicians are often the subjects of his work, depicted with strong, bright colours and a child-like joyousness.
Born on July 7, 1887 in Vitebsk in to a poor Hassidic family, Chagall studied art at Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting in St. Petersburg. In the 1910s and '20s, he alternated between St. Petersburg and Paris. It was during his stay in the French capital between 1910 and 1914 that he absorbed influences from the leading Surrealist, Cubist and Fauvist artists.
He painted his most famous works during this time, depicting Jewish market-villages (shtetls), fiddlers, livestock, and lovers. He was committed to figurative art. His works were distinguished by their lyrical aesthetic of Jewish folklore and dream-like pastoral scenes.
Chagall returned briefly to Russia in 1915, married his fiance Bella Rosenfeld and the couple had their first child.
After the Russian Revolution, he stayed in Russia, working as the director of the Art Academy in Vitebsk, and later as director of the Moscow Jewish State Theater.
However, Paris exerted its pull. He returned there in 1923, forming a partnership with the famous art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who sent Chagall to Palestine in 1931 to encounter biblical landscapes in person.
This was the start of Chagall’s fascination with Old Testament themes, which resulted in a series of more than 100 etchings illustrating the Bible. Many of these works incorporate elements of Jewish folklore and images from Chagall's early religious life.
During the Second World War, Chagall fled to the United States where he expressed his horror of Nazi persecutions of Jews in works depicting Jewish martyrs and refugees. In 1946, the Museum of Modern Art in New York staged a retrospective for him.
After the war, Chagall returned permanently to France. Besides paintings and graphic art, he made sculptures, murals, ceramics, stained glass windows and mosaics. He worked on murals for several well-known buildings, including the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Vatican and the Paris Opera House.
Chagall also has works in Israel, most notably Hadassah Hospital’s 12 stained glass windows and wall decorations in the Knesset.
In 1977, the French government awarded Chagall its highest honor, the Grand-Croix de la Légion d’Honneur.
He died in 1985, in France, at the age of 97.
Will God or someone give me the power to breathe my sigh into my canvases, the sigh of prayer and sadness, the prayer of salvation, of rebirth?
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