Marc Chagall was a Russian painter of Jewish origin. He was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagalov in Vitsebsk, Belarus. He was one of the most important artists of surrealism, and in his works can be seen the resonance of fantasy and dreams.
He was the oldest of nine children in the close-knit Jewish family led by his father, a herring merchant Khatskl (Zakhar) Shagal. This period of his life, described as happy though impoverished, appears in references throughout Chagall’s work. He studied painting in 1906 under famed local artist Yehuda (Yudl) Pen and moved to St. Petersburg in 1907 to join the school of the Society of Art Supporters. There he studied under Nikolai Roerich. From 1908-1910 he studied under Leon Bakst at Zvantseva’s School.
After becoming known as an artist, he left St. Petersburg to join the gathering of artists in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris, France. In 1914, he returned to Vitebsk and married his fiancée, Bella. World War I erupted while Chagall was in Russia. Chagall became an active participant in the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Soviet Ministry of Culture made him a Commissar of Art for the Vitebsk region, where he founded an art school. He did not fare well politically under the Soviet system. He and his wife moved to Moscow in 1920 and back to Paris in 1923.
With the German Nazi occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews to the Nazis death camps Marc Chagall had to flee from France. With the assistance of the American journalist Varian Fry he hid at Villa Air-Bel in Marseilles before Fry helped him escape from France. In 1941, the Chagalls settled in the USA. 1944, his wife Bella, the constant subject of his paintings and companion of his life, died from an illness.
He worked with Virginia Haggard through intense years and rediscovered a free and vibrant color. His works of this period are dedicated to love and the joy of life, with curved, sinuous figures. He also began to work in sculpture, ceramics, and stained glass. Chagall remarried in 1952 to Valentina Brodsky. He traveled several times to Greece, and in 1957 visited Israel.
Major works include “I and the Village” (1911), “Green Violinist” (1923-24, Guggenheim Museum, New York), “The Birthday” (1915), “Solitude” (1933, Tel-Aviv Museum). Today, a Chagall painting can sell for more than US$6 million. His work can be found in the Paris Opera, First National Bank Plaza of downtown Chicago, New York Metropolitan Opera House, cathedral of Metz France, and a small church in Mainz.
He died on March 28, 1985 and is buried in the Saint Paul Town Cemetery, Saint-Paul de Vence (near Nice), France.