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 Marc (Moishe Shagal) Chagall  (1887 - 1985)

/ shah-GAHL/
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Lived/Active: New York / France/Russian Federation      Known for: abstract village peasant theme paintings, public art

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BIOGRAPHY for Marc Chagall
Facts/Data
Birth
1887 (Vitebsk, Russia)
 
Death
1985 (St. Paul de Vence, France)

Lived/Active
New York / France/Russian Federation




Often Known For
abstract village peasant theme paintings, public art

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Marc Chagall was a man of keen intelligence, a shrewd observer of the contemporary scene, with a great sympathy for human suffering.  He was born on July 7, 1887 in Vitebsk, Russia; his original name was Moishe Shagal (Segal), but when he became a foremost member of the Ecole de Paris, he adopted French citizenship and the French spelling of his name.  Vitebsk was a good-sized Russian town of over 60,000, not a shtetl.  His father supported a wife and eight children as a worker in a herring-pickling plant.

Sheltered by the Jewish commandment against graven images, the young Chagall never saw so much as a drawing until, one day, he watched a schoolmate copying a magazine illustration.  He was ridiculed for his astonishment, but he began copying and improvising from magazines.  Both Chagall's parents reluctantly agreed to let him study with Yehuda Pen, a Jewish artist in Vitebsk.  Later, in 1906, they allowed their son to study in St. Petersburg, where he was exposed to Russian Iconography and folk art.  At that time, Jews could leave the Pale only for business and employment and were required to carry a permit.  Chagall, who was in St. Petersburg without a permit, was imprisoned briefly.

His first wife, Bella Rosenfeld, was a product of a rich cultivated and intellectual group of Jews in Vitebsk.  Chagall was made commissar for the arts for the area, charged with directing its cultural life and establishing an art school.  Russian folklore, peasant life and landscapes persisted in his work all his life.  In 1910 a rich patron, a lawyer named Vinaver, staked him to a crucial trip to Paris, where young artists were revolutionizing art. He also sent him a handsome allowance of 125 francs (in those days about $24) each month.   Chagall rejected cubism, fauvism and futurism, but remained in Paris.  He found a studio near Montparnasse in a famous twelve-sided wooden structure divided into wedge-shaped rooms.  Chaim Soutine, a fellow Russian Jew, and Modigliani lived on the same floor.  To Chagall's astonishment, he found himself heralded as one of the fathers of surrealism.  In 1923, a delegation of Max Ernst, Paul Eluard and Gala (later Salvador Dali's wife) actually knelt before Chagall, begging him to join their ranks.  He refused.                                    
                                                                                                                             To understand Chagall's work, it is necessary to know that he was born a Hasidic Jew, heir to mysticism and a world of the spirit, steeped in Jewish lore and reared in the Yiddish language.  The Hasidim had a special feeling for animals, which they tried not to overburden.  In the mysterious world of Kabbala and fantastic ancient legends of Chagall's youth, the imaginary was as important as the real.  His extraordinary use of color also grew out of his dream world; he did not use color realistically, but for emotional effect and to serve the needs of his design.  Most of his favorite themes, though superficially light and trivial, mask dark and somber thoughts. The circus he views as a mirror of life; the crucifixion as a tragic theme, used as a parallel to the historic Jewish condition, but he is perhaps best known for the rapturous lovers he painted all his life.  His love of music is a theme that runs through his paintings.

After a brief period in Berlin, Chagall, Bella and their young daughter, Ida, moved to Paris and in 1937 they assumed French citizenship.  When France fell, Chagall accepted an invitation from the Museum of Modern Art to immigrate to the United States.  He was arrested and imprisoned in Marseilles for a short time, but was still able to immigrate with his family.  The Nazi onslaught caught Chagall in Vichy, France, preoccupied with his work.  He was loath to leave; his friend Varian Fry rescued him from a police roundup of Jews in Marseille, and packed him, his family and 3500 lbs. of his art works on board a transatlantic ship.  The day before he arrived in New York City, June 23, 1941, the Nazis attacked Russia.  The United States provided a wartime haven and a climate of liberty for Chagall.   In America he spent the war years designing large backdrops for the Ballet.

Bella died suddenly in the United States of a viral infection in September 1944 while summering in upstate New York. He rushed her to a hospital in the Adirondacks, where, hampered by his fragmentary English, they were turned away with the excuse that the hour was too late.  The next day she died.

He waited for three years after the war before returning to France.  With him went a slender married English girl, Virginia Haggard MacNeil;  Chagall fell in love with her and they had a son, David.  After seven years she ran off with an indigent photographer.  It was an immense blow to Chagall's ego, but soon after, he met Valentine Brodsky, a Russian divorcee designing millinery in London (he called her Fava).  She cared for him during the days of his immense fame and glory. They returned to France, to a home and studio in rustic Vence.  Chagall loved the country and every day walked through the orchards, terraces, etc. before he went to work.

Chagall died on March 28, 1985 in the south of France.  His heirs negotiated an arrangement with the French state allowing them to pay most of their inheritance taxes in works of art.  The heirs owed about $30 million to the French government; roughly $23 million of that amount was deemed payable in artworks. Chagall's daughter, Ida and his widow approved the arrangement.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources:
Hannah Grad Goodman in Homage to Chagall in Hadassah Magazine, June 1985
Jack Kroll in Newsweek, April 8, 1985
Andrea Jolles in National Jewish Monthly Magazine, May 1985
Michael Gibson in ARTnews, September 1988
Time Magazine, July 30, 1965


Biography from GallArt.com:
Born in Belarus in 1887, Marc Chagall was a French painter, printmaker and designer associated with several major artistic styles, synthesizing elements of Cubism, Symbolism and Fauvism. One work in particular, I and the Village (1911), pre-dated Surrealism as an artistic expression of psychic reality. An early modernist, Chagall created works in nearly every artistic medium, including sets for plays and ballets, biblical etchings, and stained-glass windows. Chagall died in France in 1985. Today, he is widely regarded as one of the most successful artists of the 20th century.

EARLY YEARS
Marc Chagall was born on July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk, Belarus (in the Russian Empire), and was raised in a devoutly Jewish environment with eight other siblings. His father worked in a fish warehouse, and his mother ran a shop where she sold fish and sundry baking supplies. As a child, Chagall attended heder (Jewish elementary school) and later went to public school, where lessons were taught in Russian.

After learning the elements of drawing at school, from 1907 to 1910, Chagall studied painting in St. Petersburg at the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts, eventually under stage designer Léon Bakst. A characteristic work from this early period is "The Dead Man" (1908), a painting that depicts a violinist (a recurring image for the artist) amid a nightmarish rooftop scene.

Chagall moved to Paris in 1910, and then moved into a studio on the edge of town in a Bohemian area known as La Ruche ("the Beehive"). There, he met several writers and artists, including Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay and Albert Gleizes. In such artistic company, experimentation was encouraged, and Chagall quickly began developing the poetic and innovative tendencies that had begun to emerge in Russia at the time—tendencies that may not have previously been encouraged. At the same time, he came under the influence of the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Fauvist pictures he saw in Paris museums, and was introduced to Fauvism and Cubism. Before long, he was participating in the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d'Automne (1912), annual French exhibits, staging his first solo show in 1914 in Berlin to great adulation.

This period—during which he created several images of his childhood and hometown of Vitebsk—is considered Chagall's strongest, artistically, and the style he developed would remain with him for the rest of his life. His works during this time include "Hommage Apollinaire" (1911-12), The Fiddler (1912) and Paris Through the Window (1913).

WORLD WAR I
After the Berlin exhibition, Chagall returned to Vitebsk, Belarus, where he intended to stay long enough to marry his fiancée, Bella. A few weeks later, though, he was stranded by the outbreak of World War I, as the Russian borders were closed indefinitely. Instead of despairing, Chagall embraced local scenes in his art, working at the time in an unusually realistic style.

Paintings such as "The Praying Jew" (or The Rabbi of Vitebsk; 1914) and "Jew in Green" (1914) emerged during this period.

Chagall married Bella in 1915, and the flying lovers of Birthday (1915-23) and the playful, acrobatic Double Portrait with a Glass of Wine (1917) serve as testaments to the joyousness of the artist's spirit during the early years of his marriage.

At first, Chagall was enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution of October 1917, and he decided to settle in Vitebsk. In 1918, he was appointed commissar for art, and then founded and directed the Vitebsk Popular Art School. Disagreements with the Suprematists (a group of artists primarily concerned with geometric shapes) resulted in Chagall's resignation from the school in 1920, after which he moved to Moscow, there undertaking his first stage designs for the State Jewish Chamber Theater. Chagall then left Russia for good. After a stop-over in Berlin in 1922, the artist returned to Paris in 1923 with his wife and daughter; his first retrospective took place there the following year, at the Galerie Barbazanges-Hodebert.

Chagall had learned engraving while in Berlin, and he received his first engraving commission in 1923, from Paris art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard, for creating etchings to illustrate a special edition of Nikolay Gogol's novel Dead Souls. Over the next three years, Chagall completed 107 plates for the Gogol book, 100 gouaches for poet Jean de La Fontaine's Fables, and a series of etchings illustrating the Bible; his career as a printmaker was in full swing.

During the 1930s, besides painting and engraving, Chagall traveled extensively: to the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Italy and Palestine, where he stayed for two months, visiting the Holy Land to inspire his Bible etchings. In Palestine in 1931, Chagall immersed himself in Jewish life and history, and by the time he returned to France, he had completed 32 of biblical plates (he would create 105 in total).

WORLD WAR II
With Hitler rising to power, a full-blown war was waged in Germany against artists, and, subsequently, anything deemed modern or difficult to interpret being confiscated and burned (with some of Chagall's works being singled out). The once-impressed German press now turned on Chagall, and in response, Chagall's paintings struck a different tone, with terror and persecution taking on foreground roles.

In Solitude (1933), Chagall's anxiety over the fate of humanity is represented by an atmosphere of despondency and in the figure of the huddled, pious Jew; in White Crucifixion (1938), Jewish and Christian symbols are mixed in a depiction of a Nazi crowd terrorizing Jews. The artist would be dealt another blow in 1939, when Ambroise Vollard died and Chagall's various etching projects were put on hiatus. (Another publisher later picked up where Vollard had left off, issuing Dead Souls in 1948, La Fontaine's Fables in 1952 and the Bible in 1956.)

With the outbreak of World War II, Chagall moved farther and farther south in France, as the Nazi threat became increasingly real for European Jews.

A group of Americans ran a rescue operation trafficking artists and intellectuals out of Europe to the United States via forged visas, and Marc Chagall was one of more than 2,000 who escaped this way. He arrived in New York with Bella on June 23, 1941—the day after Germany invaded the Soviet Union—and spent most of the next few years in the New York area.

In New York, Chagall continued to develop his signature themes, but in 1942, a new commission came his way: to design the sets and costumes for a new ballet, Aleko, by Léonide Massine, which would stage Pushkin's The Gypsies and be accompanied by the music of Tchaikovsky. When Aleko—Chagall's first ballet—premiered on September 8, 1942, it was a great success. Also during this period, Chagall designed the backdrops and costumes for Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird (1945), another success.

The course of Chagall's life and art was changed yet again in 1944, when his wife, Bella, passed away. Thereafter, depictions of memories of his wife recurred in Chagall's work; she appears in several forms—a haunted weeping wife, an angel and a phantom bride—in Around Her (1945), and as a bride in The Wedding Candles (1945) and Nocturne (1947).

Before moving back to France for good in 1948, Chagall was honored with retrospective exhibitions at both the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.

LATER YEARS
In 1948, Chagall settled again in France, on the French Riviera at Vence. During the 1950s, he forayed into painting and modeling ceramics, stone sculptures and mosaics. In 1958, Chagall designed the scenery and costumes for the ballet Daphnis and Chloe for the Paris Opera, from whom, five years later, he received a commission to paint a new ceiling for its theater.

The choice of artist, however, stirred controversy, as some objected to having a French national monument redesigned by a Russian Jew, while others disliked the idea of a modernist working on such a historic building. Nonetheless, the project went forward with Chagall at the helm, and when it was unveiled, it was a huge hit with all factions, surprising many and vindicating others, Chagall included.

Over Chagall's decades-long career, his use of color captured the attention of viewers, and his varying projects in his later years were no different: In 1960, he began creating stained-glass windows for the synagogue of Hebrew University's Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem—a project that became a spiritual journey for Chagall, once again linking him to his Jewish heritage. Chagall later took on more stained-glass projects, including at the United Nations building (1964); the Fraumünster Cathedral in Zurich (1967); St. Stephen's Church in Mainz, Germany (1978); and the All Saints' Church in the United Kingdom (1978).

Marc Chagall died in Saint-Paul de Vence, France, on March 28, 1985, leaving behind a vast collection of work in several branches of the arts, as well as a rich legacy as a major Jewish artist and a pioneer of modernism. Pablo Picasso famously once said of the artist, "When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is." (Courtesy of Biography.com)

Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art:
Marc Chagall was born on July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk, Russia, to a close knit Jewish family that included ten children.  His father was a clerk in a herring factory and his mother worked in the family home and ran a grocery store.  Although never formally embracing a particular art style, Chagall’s works have been praised as having a major impact on Surrealism—a movement that expressed the subconscious in fantastical imagery—and contain elements of Cubism, Orphism and Fauvism.

The ubiquitous courtyard animals of his childhood, strong family heritage and faith, native village and the vitality of Paris became the major themes in his art.  These first impressions lingered in Chagall’s mind and created unique autobiographical images that included floating lovers, massive bouquets of joyful flowers, the gentle horse or cow, the watchful rooster, his beloved muse-first wife, Bella, and the merriment of the circus.

After seeing a classmate’s sketch from a magazine, Chagall took up drawing—covering his room in his creations. He tells of warily approaching his Mother with his goal: “…as my mother was putting bread in the oven, I went up to her and, taking her by the flour-smeared elbow, I said to her Mama—I want to be a painter”. She, of course, preferred that he become a clerk, an accountant or a photographer’s assistant.

Chagall took classes at the local art school where he would be the only pupil who painted with violet.  In 1907 he moved to St. Petersburg where he studied briefly with the famed Russian painter Leon Bakst (1866-1924).  It was in Bakst’s studio where he would first see the Modern Art that was sweeping Paris.  At the age of 21, the then unknown artist would paint his first fiddler on the roof—a tribute to his Uncle Neuch who, according to the artist, played the violin “like a cobbler”.

Aided by a patron, Chagall moved to Paris in 1910 befriending avant-garde poets, writers and painters while living at the dilapidated “La Ruche” (The Beehive) near the slaughterhouses in Montparnasse.  He would participate in the 1912-1914 Paris salons and have his first one man show in Germany in 1914.

At the outbreak of WWI Chagall returned to Russia and, in 1915, married his fiancée Bella Rosenfeld—the daughter of a prominent family—she would become his artistic inspiration.  Their daughter, Ida (named after the artist’s mother), was born the following year.  Upon meeting Bella in 1909, Chagall writes “I feel she has known me always, my childhood, my present life, my future; as if she were watching over me, divining my innermost being, though this is the first time I have seen her. I knew this is she, my wife”. The Chagall family would remain in Russia throughout the war years and move back to Paris in 1923.

In Paris, Chagall received commissions from art dealer Ambroise Vollard that brought him to international attention including the etchings for ‘Les Fables de la Fontaine’ the French equivalent of Aesop’s Fables.  Another war, WWII, would force the family to leave France to escape persecution, and settle in the United States.  During this time Chagall’s beloved wife Bella tragically died after a brief illness in 1944.  Inconsolable, the artist turned his canvases to the wall, unable to work, for almost a year.  Bella would remain, however, his constant companion for the rest of his life appearing in his works as a curvaceous nude clad in pearls or an apparition watching over the artist at his easel.

Upon his return to France, Chagall found himself under the guidance of master printer Charles Sorlier at Mourlot Frères Atelier—a well known lithography studio. According to Sorlier, the partnership would be fruitful—“He learned like an inquisitive apprentice boy. As stubborn as he was eager, under my guidance he tried out every imaginable technique. No craftsman will ever be prouder than I was to have such a gifted apprentice under my tutelage. For many long months he came and worked tirelessly, and his dissatisfaction allowed him to have only a few of his first attempts printed”.

The subsequent results were remarkable with more than 1000 original lithographs created with stunning color techniques still unparalleled today.  Chagall would complete many lithographic series including The Bible, The Story of Exodus, The Circus, Daphnis and Chloe and The Odyssey’ oftentimes traveled to foreign countries for inspiration and used up to 25 different lithographic plates per print to achieve the perfect expression of color.  His mastery as a colorist was noted by Picasso who said “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is”.

Marc Chagall died at his Saint Paul de Vence home in March 1985 at the age of 97 with his second wife Vava, at his side—a highly regarded, decorated and exhibited artist—the last in the great line of 20th Century Modern Masters.

Quote:
“In our life there is a single color, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art.  It is the color of love”.

Select Museum Collections:
Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Art Institute of Chicago
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland
Tate Gallery, London
Jewish Museum, New York
Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel


Biography from RoGallery.com:
Marc Chagall (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 Moishe Shagal; his name was rendered in the Russian language as Mark Zakharovich Shagalov.  Chagall was born in Liozno, near Vitebsk, 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 Shagal'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 from an illness.  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 when he met Virginia Haggard, with whom he had a son, David (McNeil).  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").  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 Twelve tribes, such as Levi, pictured here.

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.

Biography from Odon Wagner Gallery:
“I whiled away my days at the Place de la Concorde or round the Jardin du Luxembourg, plucking leaves and looking at Danton and Watteau. Oh! If only, astride the stone chimera of Notre Dame, I could forge a pathway across the heavens. Paris, to me you are a second Vitebsk!” –Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall was born in Belarus, on the 7th of July 1887.  Although born in Belarus, he was also considered a French painter, draughtsman, printmaker, designer, sculptor, ceramicist and writer.  A prolific artist, Chagall excelled in the European tradition of subject painting and distinguished himself as an expressive colourist. His work is noted for its consistent use of folkloric imagery and its sweetness of colour.

Chagall went to St Petersburg in 1907 where he entered a minor art school, at the same time working as a sign painter.  Throughout his work the foundations of Russian art and the sign painter's technique were evident.  Though he preferred to be known as a Belarussian artist, following his exile from the Soviet Union in 1923, Chagall was recognized as a major figure of the École de Paris, especially in the later 1920s and the 1930s.  He was associated with the avant-garde circle of Delaunay, Modigliani, and Chaim Soutine. His childlike figures and objects distorted in scale and often floating upside down in space, influenced on the surrealists.

During World War II Chagall lived in the USA, where he designed ballet sets and costumes and subsequently worked on mosaics and tapestries for the Israeli Knesset building (1966).  Other achievements included the costumes and decor for Stravinsky's The Firebird (1945), stained-glass windows, and murals.

Marc Chagall returned to France after the war, and along with Picasso, was the only painter to have an exhibition at the Louvre during his lifetime.  Chagall died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Alpes-Maritimes, on the 28th of March 1985.

The artist chose lithography as a print medium to explore his mystical world of lovers, musicians and artists. Working directly on the printing plate, Chagall’s spontaneity of brushstrokes, drawn lines, and lush colour resulted in the some of the twentieth centuries most highly sought after lithographs.

Literature:
Gauss, Ulrike, Ed. Marc Chagall: The Lithographs. The Sorlier Collection. A Catalogue Raisonné. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1998. Pg. 278.
Sorlier, Charles. The Lithographs of Chagall: 1969-1973. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1974. Pgs. 58-59.


Biography from Anderson Galleries:
A Russian Jewish artist associated with several key art movements, he 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.” For decades he “had also been respected as the world’s preeminent Jewish artist.” He also accepted many non-Jewish commissions, including a stained glass for the cathedrals of Reims and Metz, a Dag Hammarskjold memorial at the United Nations, and the great ceiling mural in the Paris Opera.

His most vital work was made on the eve of World War I, when he traveled between St. Petersburg, Paris, and Berlin. During this period he created his own mixture and style of modern art based on his visions of Eastern European Jewish folk culture. He spent his wartime years in Russia, and the October Revolution of 1917 brought Chagall both opportunity and peril.

He was by now one of the Soviet Union's most distinguished artists and a member of the modernist avant-garde. He founded the Vitebsk Arts College, which was considered the most distinguished school of art in the Soviet Union. However, "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." As a result, he soon moved to Paris with his wife, never to return.

He was known to have two basic reputations, writes Lewis - as a pioneer of modernism, and as a major Jewish artist. He experienced modernism’s golden age in Paris, where “he synthesized the art forms of Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism, and the influence of Fauvism gave rise to Surrealism.” Yet throughout these phases of his style "he remained most emphatically a Jewish artist, whose work was one long dreamy reverie of life in his native village of Vitebsk."

 “When Matisse dies,” Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is."

Biography from Annex Galleries:
Marc Chagall was born July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk, Russia.  From 1907 to 1910, he studied in Saint Petersburg, at the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts and later with Léon Bakst.  In 1910, he moved to Paris, where he associated with Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay and encountered Fauvism and Cubism.  He participated in the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d'Automne in 1912. His first solo show was held in 1914 at Der Sturm gallery in Berlin.

Chagall visited Russia in 1914, and was prevented from returning to Paris by the outbreak of war.  He settled in Vitebsk, where he was appointed Commissar for Art in 1918.  He founded the Vitebsk Popular Art School and directed it until disagreements with the Suprematists resulted in his resignation in 1920.  He moved to Moscow and executed his first stage designs for the State Jewish Chamber Theater there.  After a sojourn in Berlin, Chagall returned to Paris in 1923 and met Ambroise Vollard.  His first retrospective took place in 1924 at the Galerie Barbazanges-Hodebert, Paris. During the 1930s, he traveled to Palestine, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, and Italy. In 1933, the Kunsthalle Basel held a major retrospective of his work.

During World War II, Chagall fled to the United States. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gave him a retrospective in 1946.  He settled permanently in France in 1948 and exhibited in Paris, Amsterdam, and London.  During 1951, he visited Israel and executed his first sculptures.  The following year, the artist traveled in Greece and Italy.

During the 1960s, Chagall continued to travel widely, often in association with large-scale commissions he received.  Among these were windows for the synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem, installed in 1962; a ceiling for the Paris Opéra, installed in 1964; a window for the United Nations building, New York, installed in 1964; murals for the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, installed in 1967; and windows for the cathedral in Metz, France, installed in 1968.  An exhibition of the artist's work from 1967 to 1977 was held at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, in 1977-78, and a major retrospective was held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1985.

Chagall died March 28, 1985, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.

Source:
Gauss, "Marc Chagall: The Lithographs", Verlag Gerd Hatja, New York, 1999

Biography from Acquisitions Of Fine Art:
Marc Chagall (1887- 1985)
Unlike Picasso and his counterparts who painted from life, Chagall recalled images from memory and created work from his imagination without emphasis on a subject’s real appearance.

Both artists were revolutionary in the way they broke from traditional styles of art. There are however, perhaps more contrasts between the two artists than similarities. With his development of Cubism, Picasso pioneered a movement in modern art. Chagall on the other hand, although he adopted elements from particular movements such as Fauvism, Cubism and Surrealism, he was always on the fringe of these movements, preferring to work in his own unique style.

Surrealism did not interest Picasso, as he was interested in concrete everyday reality and through the cubist style he represented the mechanics and structure of everyday life and objects. Instead, Chagall used elements of surrealism to demonstrate his emotions to events and his surroundings and illustrated his dreams of an idyllic world. In this way the artists differ greatly in their styles.

Throughout his life and his work Chagall tried to raise awareness of the issues of the Jewish people. In 1949 he helped set up the MRAP anti-racist NGO to combat racism and deal with the effects of the holocaust after the war. Chagall’s commitment to the Jewish people and love of his homeland not only in his art, but also in his actions, is perhaps why Rhyne calls Chagall “the pre-eminent Jewish modern artist”.

In his biography of Chagall, Franz Meyer quotes: “Picasso stood for triumph of the intellect, Chagall for the glory of the heart”. Which I feel sums up the comparison between the two – Picasso’s work was revolutionary in its originality, where as Chagall’s work was significant for his ability to express his emotions.

Biography from Artistic Gallery:
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.

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.

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.

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

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