Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Byelorussia to a poor Hassidic family. The eldest of nine children, he studied first in a heder before moving to a secular Russian school, where he began to display his artistic talent. With his mother’s support, and despite his father’s disapproval, Chagall pursued his interest in art, going to St. Petersburg in 1907 to study art with Leon Bakst. Influenced by contemporary Russian painting, Chagall’s distinctive, child-like style, often centering on images from his childhood, began to emerge.

Paris Through the Window, Marc Chagall, 1913

From 1910 to 1914, Chagall lived in Paris, and there absorbed the works of the leading cubist, surrealist, and fauvist painters. It was during this period that Chagall painted some of his most famous paintings of the Jewish shtetl or village, and developed the features that became recognizable trademarks of his art. Strong and often bright colors portray the world with a dreamlike, non-realistic simplicity, and the fusion of fantasy, religion, and nostalgia infuses his work with a joyous quality. Animals, workmen, lovers, and musicians populate his figures; the “fiddler on the roof” recurs frequently, often hovering within another scene. Chagall’s work of this period displays the influence of contemporary French painting, but his style remains independent of any one school of art. He exhibited regularly in the Salon des Independants.

La Mariée, Marc Chagall

In 1914, before the outbreak of World War I, Chagall held a one-man show in Berlin, exhibiting work dominated by Jewish images and personages. During the war, he resided in Russia, and in 1917, endorsing the revolution, he was appointed Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk and then director of the newly established Free Academy of Art. The Bolshevik authorities, however, frowned upon Chagall’s style of art as too modern, and in 1922, Chagall left Russia, settling in France one year later. He lived there permanently except for the years 1941 – 1948 when, fleeing France during World War II, he resided in the United States. Chagall’s horror over the Nazi rise to power is expressed in works depicting Jewish martyrs and Jewish refugees.

Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers

In addition to images of the Hassidic world, Chagall’s paintings are inspired by themes from the Bible. His fascination with the Bible culminated in a series of over 100 etchings illustrating the Bible, many of which incorporate elements from Jewish folklore and from religious life in Vitebsk. Chagall’s other illustrations include works by Gogol, La Fontaine, Y. L. Peretz, and his autobiographical Ma Vie (1931; My Life 1960) and Chagall by Chagall (1979).

Chagall painted with a variety of media, such as oils, water colors, and gouaches. His work also expanded to other forms of art, including ceramics, mosaics, and stained glass. Among his most famous building decorations are the ceiling of the Opera House in Paris, murals at the New York Metropolitan Opera, a glass window at the United Nations, and decorations at the Vatican.

Israel, which Chagall first visited in 1931 for the opening of the Tel Aviv Art Museum, is likewise endowed with some of Chagall’s work, most notably the twelve stained glass windows at Hadassah Hospital and wall decorations at the Knesset. Chagall received many prizes and much recognition for his work. He was also one of very few artists to exhibit work at the Louvre in their lifetime.

Marc Chagall

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.

The Bride 

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.