Chagall is associated with several key art movements and was one of the
most successful artists of the twentieth century. He forged a unique
career in virtually every artistic medium, including paintings, book
illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramics, tapestries and fine
art prints. Chagall's haunting, exuberant, and poetic images have
enjoyed universal appeal, and art critic Robert Hughes called him "the
quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century." As a
pioneer of modernism and one of the greatest figurative artists of the
twentieth century, Marc Chagall achieved fame and fortune, and over the
course of a long career created some of the best-known and most-loved
paintings of our time. According to art historian Michael J. Lewis,
Chagall was considered to be “the last survivor of the first
generation of European modernists.”
Mark Zakharovich Shagal, known today all over the world as Marc Chagall, was born on July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk, Belorussia. He was the oldest of nine brothers. His father worked in a salt herring factory, his mother took care of the household, and the grandfather taught the boy, instilling in him love for religion and the knowledge of the Torah. Marc Chagall began to display his artistic talent while studying at a secular Russian school, and despite his father’s disapproval, in 1907 he began studying art with Leon Bakst in St. Petersburg. It was at this time that his distinct style that we recognize today began to emerge. As Marc Chagall's paintings began to center on images from his childhood, the focus that would guide his artistic motivation for the rest of his life came to fruition.
From 1910 to 1914, Marc Chagall lived in Paris, and there absorbed the works of the leading cubist, surrealist, and fauvist painters. It was during this period that Marc 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. Marc Chagall exhibited regularly in the Salon des Independants. Chagall always stressed the importance of Paris for his development: "In Paris, it seems to me, I have found everything, but above all, the art of craftsmanship. I owe all that I have achieved to Paris, to France, whose nature, men, the very air, were the true school of my life and art."
Marc Chagall's exposure to Cubism resulted in his attempts to incorporate the Cubist multiple points of view and geometric shapes into his compositions, as can be seen in two of his best known early paintings, "Me and My Village" (shown below) and "Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers". In 1913 Marc Chagall participated in the Target exhibition and in 1914 had his first one-man show at the Galerie der Sturm in Berlin. The same year Chagall returned to Russia and went to Vitebsk, where he married Bella Rosenberg who would become an inspiration for many of his works. She was a writer and became the subject of many of Chagall's paintings including "Bella with White Collar" (shown here) in 1917. From Vitebsk, the married couple moved to St. Petersburg (at that time Petrograd). Marc Chagall contributed to the Exhibition of Painting, 1915, and a year later sent over forty paintings to the Jack of Diamonds show in Moscow.
Marc Chagall became an active participant in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Although the Soviet Ministry of Culture made him a Commissar of Art for the Vitebsk region, where he founded Vitebsk Museum of Modern Art and an art school, Marc Chagall did not fare well politically under the Soviet system. Marc Chagall was considered a non-person by the Soviets because he was Jewish and a painter whose work did not celebrate the heroics of the Soviet people. After the Revolution Chagall was active as an art educator.
During this period, Marc Chagall wrote articles, poetry and his memoirs (in Yiddish,) which were published mainly in newspapers (and only posthumously in book-form). Chagall became a French citizen in 1937.With the Nazi occupation of France during World War II and the deportation of Jews, the Chagalls fled Paris, seeking asylum at Villa Air-Bel in Marseille, where the American journalist Varian Fry assisted in their escape from France through Spain and Portugal. In 1941, the Chagalls settled in the United States where Marc Chagall lived until 1948 In addition to images of the Jewish 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 folklore and from religious life in Russia. 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. Marc 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.