Who was Marc Chagall (1887-1985)? Originally published July 6-7, 2018

Marc Zakharovich Chagall was born on July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk, Belarus, Russia.  He was an artist.

After studying from 1907-1910 in Saint Petersburg at the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts and at the Svanseva School with Léon Bakst (artist/scenic designer whose original name was Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg), Chagall moved to Paris and steeped himself in the Impressionist, Symbolist, Fauvist and Cubist movements.  In 1912 he participated in the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne.  His first solo show was in 1914 at the gallery of Der Sturm (a modernist publication) in Berlin.  Alas, after stopping in Berlin at the exhibition, Chagall went on to visit Vitebsk, where he was stranded by the outbreak of WWI.  He was stuck in Russia.

To avoid military service, he took a position as a clerk in the Ministry of War Economy in St. Petersburg.  He painted what he saw in the community, and in 1915 married Bella Rosenfeld, who would appear in many of his paintings, such as Double Portrait with a Glass of Wine.  During those years he befriended Boris Pasternak, among other notables.  In 1920, he moved his family to Moscow, where he did scenic designs and costumes for the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, and he also painted a series of murals titled Introduction to the Jewish Theater.  Returning to France in 1923 (after stopping in Berlin and failing to find his artworks), Chagall saw a good bit of acclaim, traveling Europe and exhibiting. 

One of Chagall’s early renowned works was I and the Village (1911), which the Encyclopedia Britannica deems “among the first expressions of psychic reality in modern art.”  His works seem heavily informed by Jewish thought and teachings.  In 1930, to create etchings to illustrate an Old Testament, he traveled to Palestine for research. 

Back in France, he was soon forced to flee Nazi persecution (they actually burned some of his works and displayed some as “degenerate art”).  He expressed his distress in his 1938 painting White Crucifixion.  In 1941, his name was added to the Museum of Modern Art list of artists and intellectuals deemed most at risk, and he and his family were among the 2,000+ who received visas and thus escaped.  So he came to the U.S., where he also found acclaim. 

He moved back to France in 1948, and continued traveling and exhibiting throughout Europe.  In 1951 he did his first sculptures, in Israel.  His commissions continued to grow in physical size as well as in scope.  He would create the monumental stained-glass windows in the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, a ceiling for the Paris Opéra, murals for the Met, and windows for the cathedral in Metz, France, among many other large later works.

Chagall’s wife Bella passed away in 1944, in 1946 he and English artist Virginia McNeil had a son, David (Virginia, David, and Virginia’s daughter Jean went with Chagall to France, though she left him in 1951), and in 1952 Chagall married Valentina (Vava) Brodsky.  Marc Chagall passed away in St.-Paul-de-Vence on March 28, 1985, still creating.