Marc Chagall (מאַרק שאַגאַל; Belarusian: Мойша Захаравіч Шагалаў Mojša Zaharavič Šagałaŭ; Russian: Марк Захарович Шага́л Mark Zakharovich Shagal) (7 July 1887 – 28 March 1985) was a Russian-Belarusian-French painter of Jewish origin, who was born in Belarus, at that time part of the Russian Empire. He is associated with the modern movements after impressionism.
Marc Chagall was born in Liozno, near Vitebsk, now in Belarus, the eldest of nine children in the close-knit Jewish family led by his father Khatskl (Zakhar) Shagal, a herring merchant, and his mother, Feige-Ite. This period of his life, described as happy though impoverished, appears in references throughout Chagall's work. Currently the Chagall's house on Pokrovskaya Street in Vitebsk is restored as part of the Marc Chagall's Museum.
After he began studying painting in 1906 under famed local artist Yehuda Pen, Chagall moved to St. Petersburg some months later, in 1907. There he joined the school of the "Society of Art Supporters" and studied under Nikolai Roerich, encountering artists of every school and style. From 1908-1910 Chagall studied under Leon Bakst at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting.
This was a difficult period for Chagall; at the time, Jewish residents were only allowed to live in St. Petersburg with a permit, and the artist was jailed for a brief period for an infringement of this restriction. Despite this, Chagall remained in St. Petersburg until 1910, and regularly visited his home town where, in 1909, he met his future wife, Bella Rosenfeld.
After gaining a reputation as an artist, Chagall left St. Petersburg to settle in Paris to be near the burgeoning art community in the Montparnasse district, where he developed friendships with such avant-garde luminaries as Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, and Fernand Léger. In 1914, he returned to Vitebsk and, a year later, married his fiancée, Bella. While in Russia, World War I erupted and, in 1916, the Chagalls had their first child, a daughter they named Ida.
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, he did not fare well politically under the Soviet system. He and his wife moved to Moscow in 1920 and then back to Paris three years later, in 1923. During this period, Chagall published his memoirs in Yiddish, which were originally written in Russian and translated into French by Bella. He also wrote articles, poetry and memoirs in Yiddish, 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 of America.
On September 2, 1944, Chagall's beloved Bella, the constant subject of his paintings and companion of his life, died. Two years later, in 1946, he returned to Europe. By 1949 he was working in Provence, in the South of France. That same year, Chagall took part in the creation of the MRAP anti-racist NGO.
The depression Chagall experienced following Bella's death was alleviated in 1945 when he met Virginia Haggard McNeil, with whom he had a son the following year, David (McNeil), and who became his housekeeper and lover. At this time, Chagall received financial aid from theatrical commissions and, in his painting, rediscovered a free and vibrant use of 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.
In 1950 he also began experimenting with graphic mediums. After meeting with Fernand Mourlot, he often visited Mourlot Studios where he eventually produced close to a thousand different lithographic editions. With the assistance of Charles Sorlier, a master printer working at Mourlot, he spent 30 years exploring the graphic medium that most lends itself to color representation. Charles Sorlier also became one of his closest friends, assistant and counsel until the day of his death.
Chagall remarried in 1952 to Valentina Brodsky (whom he called "Vava"); Virginia had left him the previous year. He traveled several times to Greece and in 1957 visited Israel. In 1960, he created stained glass windows for the synagogue of the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem and, in 1966, wall art for the new parliament being constructed in that city. During the Six-Day War the hospital came under severe attack, placing Chagall's work under threat. In response to this, Chagall wrote a letter from France stating "I am not worried about the windows, only about the safety of Israel. Let Israel be safe and I will make you lovelier windows.". Luckily, most of the panels were removed in time, with only one sustaining severe damage. In 1973, Israel issued a series of stamps featuring the Chagall windows, which depict the Twelve tribes, such as Levi, pictured there.
At the age of 97, Chagall died in Saint-Paul de Vence on the French Riviera on March 28, 1985 and was buried at the local cemetery. His plot is located in the most westerly aisle upon entering the cemetery.
Chagall took inspiration from Belarusian folk-life, and portrayed many Biblical themes that reflected his Jewish heritage. In the 1960s and 1970s, Chagall engaged in a series of large-scale projects involving public spaces and important civic and religious buildings.
Chagall's artworks are difficult to categorize. Working in the pre-World War I Paris art world, he was involved with avant-garde currents, however, his work was consistently on the fringes of popular art movements and emerging trends, including Cubism and Fauvism, among others. He was closely associated with the Paris School and its exponents, including Amedeo Modigliani.
Abounding with references to his childhood, Chagall's work has also been criticized for slighting some of the turmoil which he experienced. He communicates happiness and optimism to those who view his work strictly in terms of his use of highly vivid colors. Chagall often posed himself, sometimes together with his wife, as an observer of a colored world like that seen through a stained-glass window. Some see The White Crucifixion, which is rich with intriguing detail, as a denunciation of the Stalin regime, the Nazi Holocaust, and the oppression of Jews in general.
For more information about his art, see the list of Chagall's artwork.
Chagall's work is housed in a variety of locations, including the Palais Garnier (the old opera house), the Chase Tower Plaza of downtown Chicago, the Metropolitan Opera, the Metz Cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims, the Fraumünster abbey in Zürich, Switzerland, the Church of St. Stephan in Mainz, Germany and the Biblical Message museum in Nice, France, which Chagall helped to design.
The only church in England with a complete set of Chagall window-glass is located in the tiny village of Tudeley, in Kent, England. Chagall painted 12 colorful stained-glass windows in Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, with each frame depicting a different tribe. In the United States, the Union Church of Pocantico Hills contains a set of Chagall windows commemorating the prophets, which was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
At the Lincoln Center in New York City, Chagall's huge murals, The Sources of Music and The Triumph of Music, are installed in the lobby of the new Metropolitan Opera House, which opened in 1966. Also in New York, the United Nations Headquarters has a stained glass wall of his work. In 1967 the UN commemorated this artwork with a postage stamp and souvenir sheet.
In 1973, the Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall (Chagall Museum) opened in Nice, France. The museum in Vitebsk which bears his name was founded in 1997, in the building where his family lived on 29 Pokrovskaia street, although, prior to his death, years before the fall of the Soviet Bloc, Chagall was persona non grata in his homeland. The museum only has copies of his work.
In 2007, an exhibition of his work entitled, “Chagall of Miracles” at Il Complesso del Vittoriano was displayed and included works such as the Red Jew (1915), Above the City (1914-1918), Composition with Circles and Goat (1920), and The Fall of the Angel (1923-1947), which impacte viewers the most. Chagall was Jewish but was heavily influenced by Christian iconography, as well as a dreamer whose works touched on the harsh realities of war and persecution, and also an avant-garde artist that did not align himself with one particular movement. The works in this exhibition highlighted all these points of Chagall's personality.
Jon Anderson, singer from the popular group Yes, met Chagall in the town of Opio, France as a young musician. Jon credits him as a seminal inspiration. He has recorded a piece of music in his honor, as well as the charitable Opio Foundation which he established in memory of his connection with the artist. In 1997, Pasqualina Azzarello painted A Celebration of Imagination: a Tribute to Marc Chagall, a 15'x30' public mural in Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 2005, musician Tori Amos recorded and released the composition "Garlands," with lyrics inspired by a series of Chagall lithographs.
In 2006, the musical group The Weepies released their album Say I Am You. One of the tracks is titled "Painting by Chagall"; part of the chorus is: "...we float like two lovers in a painting by Chagall, all around is sky and blue town, holding these flowers for a wedding gown, we live so high above the ground..." "Do Jump!", a physical theatre based in Portland, Oregon, created an acrobatic/trapeze theatre performance in tribute to Chagall.
In 2006, the fiction book "The World to Come" written by Dara Horn is about a writer who steals a painting by Marc Chagall from a local Jewish museum believing it once belonged to his parents. The book switches back and forth from the present to the 1920s, where Chagall teaches art to orphans of the Soviet pogroms. This book is a kaleidoscope of lives, eras, tragedies, and characters from Russia to Vietnam to New Jersey and follows the fictional writer's family backwards in time and Chagall's wondrous life forward. This book is based on the real event of June 7, 2001 in which the $1 million dollar "Study for Over Vitebsk" was stolen at a lively cocktail reception at the Jewish Museum in New York City. A ransom note was received on June 12, 2001 from a group calling themselves the International Committee for Art and Peace asking for peace to be established between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, a request beyond the control of the Jewish Museum. The painting was eventually discovered in February 2002 in a postal office in Topeka, Kansas and was returned to the Jewish Museum on February 21, 2002.
On July 7, 2008 Google remade their logo using his artwork, in honor of what would have been Chagall's 121st birthday. This customized version of the logo was submitted to and granted approval by the Artists Rights Society (which represents the rights of Marc Chagall in the U.S.) and the Estate of Marc Chagall. Previously, in 2002 and 2006, the Artists Rights Society clashed with Google when they asked Google to remove customised versions of its logo put up to commemorate artists Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, alleging that portions of specific artworks under their protection had been used in the logos, and that they were used without permission.
Several of Chagall's works show a violinist either floating in mid-air above a village or apparently sitting on the edge of a peaked roof. This inspired the title of the popular musical "Fiddler on the Roof."