from the Wikepedia
Chagall employed avant-garde techniques in works that embrace storytelling, allegory, memory, and religion. Vivid in color and texture, humor and fantasy, Chagall’s art reflects a distinct and personal mix of sources and ideas.
He was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagalov (Moishe Segal) in Vitebsk, Russian Empire (now in Belarus) the eldest of eight children. His mother's name was Felga-Ita. He was one of the most important artists of surrealism, and in his works can be seen the resonance of fantasy and dreams.
In 1907, Marc Chagall moved to St. Petersburg where he joined the school of the Society of Art Supporters where he studied under Nikolai Roerich. After become known as an artist he left St. Petersburg, Russia to join the gathering of artists in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris, France. In 1914 he returned to Vitebsk and married his fiancée, Bella Rosenfeld whom he had met in 1909. As World War I broke out Chagall did not leave his home town but in 1915 he married Bella and the next year they had a daughter named Ida.
Chagall became an active participant in the 1917 Russian Revolution. The Soviet Culture Ministry made him a Commissar of Art for the Vitebsk region where he founded an art school. He did not fair well under the Soviet system. He moved to Moscow in 1920 and back to Paris in 1923.
With the German 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.
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, Notre-Dame_de_Reims France, the Fraumünster Cathedral in Zurich, Switzerland, and the Church of St. Stephan in Mainz. The museum named after him in Vitsebsk was founded in 1997 in the building where his family lived on 29 Pokrovskaia street in Vitebsk. The museum, which only has copies of his work. During Soviet times he was considered a persona non grata.
He died at the age of 98 and is buried in the Saint Paul Town Cemetery, Saint-Paul de Vence (near Nice), France.
"All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites."
"I work in whatever medium likes me at the moment."
“Life in Montparnasse was marvelous! I used to work all night…When an insulted model began to cry in the next studio, when the Italians sang to the accompaniment of a mandolin, when Soutine came back from the Halles with a brace of putrid chickens to paint, I used to stand alone in my little board-walled cell, standing in front of my easel in the wretched light of a paraffin lamp. For a week, perhaps, the studio had not been swept. The floor was littered with stretchers, eggshells and empty soup tins of the cheapest variety. It was between those four walls that I wiped the dew from my eyes and became a painter.”
from an interview on PBS
SPENCER MICHELS: This dramatic painting, "The Falling Angel," by Marc Chagall, is one of several on exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that have never before been displayed in America. The painting is one of 150 works that make up the first major Chagall retrospective since 1985, the year he died. Although Chagall is known mostly for his portrayal of life's joys, "The Falling Angel" is regarded as his personal response to the suffering of Europe and the Jews during World War II: The red angel falling alarmingly to earth. This retrospective shows the range of emotion over Chagall's lifetime. Janet Bishop is curator at the museum.
JANET BISHOP: This exhibition gives us an opportunity to consider how he fit or didn't fit with the major avant-garde movements of the 20th century, and to consider what made Chagall distinct.
SPENCER MICHELS: Chagall began painting very young, independent of the various movements like impressionism and later cubism that were shaking up the art world. As is made clear in the exhibit, much of his inspiration stemmed from his Hasidic Jewish upbringing in Vitebsk, the town in Russia where he was born in 1887, and pictured here in a film available at the museum. He was the eldest of nine children in a poor family. From the beginning, his works were relatively easy to understand, putting them out of the avant-garde mainstream, according to Jean-Michel foray of the Chagall Museum in Nice. He organized this exhibit, which was first shown in Paris.
JEAN-MICHEL FORAY, Chagall Exhibit Organizer: (Translated): Chagall makes an aesthetic choice that his paintings are carriers of meaning. And unlike the abstract painter, it's important for him that that he asks people who see his paintings to understand what it is he's trying to convey.
SPENCER MICHELS: After three years in Paris when he was in his early 20s, Chagall returned to Russia before the revolution to marry Bella Rosenfeld, a girl from his hometown who became the subject of many of his most famous and fantastical works. Their granddaughter, also named Bella-- Bella Meyer-- came to the exhibit opening.
BELLA MEYER, Art Historian: Unfortunately I never knew my grandmother, because she died very prematurely. But I always heard about her through grandfather, and loved for him to tell us about her. And he always talked about her in the most adoring ways. He was truly happy. He was in love, and she appears everywhere. When I did actually fall in love, he said, I think, "now you understand what love is; now you will understand my paintings."
SPENCER MICHELS: In Moscow, Chagall designed sets and decoration for the Jewish Chamber Theater, including this huge canvass done in 1920.
JANET BISHOP: The role of music and dance was very important to him culturally. He shows a very joyful scene that's connected to God, in a sense. You see Chagall on the left hand side of the painting in a brown suit. Chagall is holding a palette, which is something that one sees in many of the canvasses throughout the exhibition.
SPENCER MICHELS: Chagall returned to France in the 1920s, and became friends with avant-garde artists. But he didn't join their ranks. While other painters were experimenting with abstraction, cubism, and other styles, Chagall mostly stuck to his own distinctive, yet simple techniques and subject matter. It took him nine years to complete "Midsummer Night's Dream." "Lovers in the Red Sky" portrays a woman and her lover flying over an eastern European Jewish town. Although Chagall was not regarded as a full-fledged surrealist, "Time is a River Without Banks" is regarded as among his most surrealistic works. And with "Temptation: Adam and Eve," he borrows from the cubists.
JANET BISHOP: He didn't reject cubism. He borrowed some of the formal principles of cubism, but then he didn't behave himself. He used biblical imagery, which was... which was very unusual. He mixed up sort of cubist fracturing of space with very realistic depictions of things, like leaves and apples.
SPENCER MICHELS: The retrospective shows Chagall striking out on his own artistic path. And that put him at odds with some critics then and now. His work, they argued, was too sentimental, too accessible, too much like folk art. Sabina Ott, a painter who heads the graduate program at the San Francisco Art Institute, has mixed feelings about Chagall's art.
SABINA OTT, San Francisco Art Institute: On the one hand I really I really enjoy... I mean he is an amazing renderer. His touch is fantastic, and the colors are fabulous.
SPENCER MICHELS: What about on the other hand?
SABINA OTT: There's not a lot of things to really grab onto that keep your intellect searching about the subject matter. I say this with, like, a big grain of salt. I think he was really a happy man and the work is really joyful and pleasant. And I think it's always hard for an artist to make work that's about love and sex and fidelity and marriage and joy without tipping in to the sentimental.
SPENCER MICHELS: Chagall's granddaughter says criticism disturbed him, to a point.
BELLA MEYER: He was extremely insecure. He would ask us grandchildren also all the time, "Do You Love Chagall?" So in a way this criticism probably scared him a little bit because he so much wanted to be understood. He can't really do anything if people want more and pretentious things.
SPENCER MICHELS: In the commercial art galleries of San Francisco, gallery owners along Geary Street are capitalizing on the nearby museum exhibit, and on the artist's reputation. This is a lithograph. It comes from the most important body of painting he'd ever done.
SPENCER MICHELS: Rowland Weinstein's gallery devotes three full floors mostly to signed Chagall lithographs at prices ranging from $9,000 to $125,000. The work, he says, sells. Maybe in today's world, especially with everything going on, maybe that's what we need, is beauty and love and joy. And then I think it's... he wears his heart on his sleeve. He lays it all right out there, and people get it. They see exactly what he means by it, and they respond exactly to what he means by it.
SPENCER MICHELS: Bella Meyer says the meaning of her grandfather's paintings stems from his own spirituality.
BELLA MEYER: He is truly religious. He is truly spiritual. He would say, "when I paint, I pray." And the bible was for him the most important poem, he said.
SPENCER MICHELS: But it wasn't just the Old Testament, as one might expect. One of the most striking features of the exhibit are Chagall's crucifixion scenes, unusual for a Jewish artist. Curator Janet Bishop says he used Christ as a symbol for human suffering.
This painting was made in 1938 and is no doubt related to the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe at that time. What you see in the painting is Christ on the cross, surrounded by images of war and destruction. And we see the advance of an army on the left-hand side of the painting; a town in flames underneath that; up in the right-hand corner a synagogue burns, and all around the composition are images of people in anguish.
SPENCER MICHELS: Chagall fled the war in Europe, and lived in New York. Shortly after his wife, Bella, died, he moved to the French Riviera, where he continued to create art until he died at the age of 98. The Chagall exhibit remains in San Francisco until November 4. It will not be shown anywhere else.
Quoted from the internet site:
Folklore, fantasy, circus, and animals populate Chagall’s paintings for the next seventy years. Chagall Young Man PhotoChagall’s work does not fit neatly into the history of art, but well into a history of original thinking and fantasy art.
He was not interested in the writings of Freud, but his work was dreamlike and appeared to be inspired by an imaginative unconscious. Dream and fantastic imagery was at Chagall’s fingertips.
Quoting Francois Le Targat in his introduction in his book on Chagall, “We must rediscover the soul of our childhood and give ourselves up to simply marveling; for his work is imbued with the marvelous…Is not “marvelous”, after all, to see red donkeys flying through the air, cocks carrying girls off on their backs, a fiddler who has chosen the roof of the house to play his festive tunes?”
About on leaving Vitebsk, the town of his childhood, Chagall said “he had carried it off with him for ever in his heart.”
Chagall left Vitebsk to work and study in St. Petersburg in 1908. With a series of help from art patrons and painters, Chagall was able to get recommendation for work and study with Bakst, the stage designer for the Ballets Russes and director of the Swanseva art school. C
In 1909 Chagall met Bella Rosenfeld in Vitebsk, she was seven years younger than he, but of a higher social class. Bella Chagall was later to write about her first early impression of the artist, “ Chagall has the appealing face of a young faun…” but then she compares him to a wild eyed animal, “He gestilates as if he were afraid to put his foot on the ground. Has he just awoken? His hand has risen and forgotten to come down again…When he opens his mouth, I hardly know whether he wants to speak or to bite with his sharp, white teeth. Everything in him is movement, a pirouette; he is never still for an instant. As though he were afraid of everything. At every moment he is poised to leap into the air and flee.” (from Lumieres allumees, translated by Ida Chagall)
With the help of his art patron, Vivaner, Chagall moved to Parismarc Chagall Photograph in 1910 to work in the city that was the Mecca of the arts, leaving Russia and Bella behind.
Chagall said that his art, “desired Paris like a tree desires water.” His experience in Paris was to be formative for his profession. Chagall tells about this time, living in La Ruche, a poor district of Paris, among other penniless painters, “Life in Montparnasse was marvelous! I used to work all night…When an insulted model began to cry in the next studio, when the Italians sang to the accompaniment of a mandolin, when Soutine came back from the Halles with a brace of putrid chickens to paint, I used to stand alone in my little board-walled cell, standing in front of my easel in the wretched light of a paraffin lamp. For a week, perhaps, the studio had not been swept. The floor was littered with stretchers, eggshells and empty soup tins of the cheapest variety. It was between those four walls that I wiped the dew from my eyes and became a painter.”
He also said that it was in Paris he discovered color. He chose not to join a movement or school of art such as the Fauves or Cubists, but he knew many of the artists and was influenced by them. The Fauves influenced his use of color, now more pure and clear, less muddied. The cubists encouraged a de-structuring of imagery, such as seen in his paintings I and the Village, To Russia, to Donkeys and to Others, The Poet (Half Past Three) Golgotha, and Homage to Apollinaire.
Chagall had close relationships with many painters and poets including Guillaume Apollinaire, Andre Salmon, Leger, Laurens, Modigliani, Soutine, and the Delaunays. Between 1912 and 1914 Chagall showed at the Salon des Independents in Paris and in Amsterdam.
Returning to Russia in 1914 he showed twenty five paintings at the official Moscow Exhibition and became friends with several great Russian poets.
He married Bella in 1915 and his painting reflects his happiness from the marriage in such famous paintings as The Birthday, Double Portrait with Wine Glass, and Over the Town.
The upheaval of the Russian Revolution drew the nonpolitical Chagall into events. He was appointed Commissar of Art for Vitebsk, but became disillusioned after criticisms of his teaching techniques. He moved to Moscow in 1920 and then back to Paris in 1923 after a nine year stay in Russia.
After a period of further hardship, Chagall began to receive more commissions and by 1930 his name was known worldwide.
With the outbreak of war, the Chagalls moved to the south of France and then to the US to escape the Nazi invasion. Chagall was kept busy during the war years painting theatrical and ballet designs. Bella died suddenly, just before the end of the war and Chagall was overcome with grief. He found solace in a relationship with Virginia Haggard in New York.
In 1947 Chagall returned to France and made his home in Vence. He married Valentine Brodsky, called Vava, in 1952.
In 1962 he was commissioned to create 12 stained-glass windows for the Hadassah Hospital of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. It was a major masterpiece and he said of it, “I felt my father and my mother were looking over my shoulder, and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago.” In 1964 he completed a canvas that covers the ceiling of the Opera in Paris, and two very large murals now in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. He created the American Windows in 1977 for the Chicago Art Institute to celebrate the US bicentennial. In the American Windows Chagall celebrates the greatness of the United States as a country of freedom, liberty, culture and religious tolerance.
Marc Chagall died in 1985 and was buried in France at Saint-Paul. He left a legacy of inspirational art that was like none other. He assimilated modern developments of art into his own personal style, as his own voice stayed true to colorful dreams and fantasies from growing up in Vitebsk, Russia to his life and loves in the US and France. Chagall was one of the 20th century’s most important artists.