Chagall’s work getting new look in Russia
For much of painter Marc Chagall’s long life, the famed artist’s genius was frowned upon in the Soviet Union.
Today, however, Chagall, who was born in modern-day Belarus, is enjoying a revival in the former USSR, with a new exhibition examining the influence of folk art and his Jewish heritage on his work.
An exhibition at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery seeks to “help people to understand the mystery of Chagall,” who always looked to popular art in his search for a distinctive figurative language, said curator Ekaterina Selezneva.
“Visitors often ask, why Chagall’s animals are blue, yellow or pink, why the bride is flying over the rooftops and the man has two faces. They will now understand where Chagall drew (his images) from,” she said.
Born Moishe Segal in 1887 to a poor Jewish family outside Vitebsk in modern Belarus, Chagall never turned his back on his life in the Jewish pale – the area to which Tsarina Catherine II confined the Jews of her empire in the 18th century – and recalls images of Vitebsk in each painting, according to Agence France-Presse.
When the 1917 Russian Revolution abolished anti-Semitic laws, Chagall was appointed Fine Arts Commissioner in Vitebsk, but a conflict with a colleague led to his resignation in 1920, the wire service added.
Chagall left Vitebsk and within two years emigrated to France. He would live in France for the rest of his life, except for the period of 1941-47, during World War II and its immediate aftermath. He died in 1985 at age 97.
On display are little-known drawings, watercolors and gouaches by Chagall, along with sketches of Vitebsk, Paris collages and famous illustrations of the Bible and Lafontaine’s fables.
Some of the exhibits have been borrowed by the organizers of the Saint Petersburg Ethnographic Museum and Moscow’s Museum of Jewish History and reveal the prototypes of Chagall’s imagery, according to Agence France-Presse.
“The brightly colored muzzles on a carpet woven in early 20th century Moscow are reminiscent of the animal faces portrayed by Chagall, who once described himself as ‘a tree bound to the earth by its roots,’” the wire service added.
One key work featured shows a man hovering above the rooftops of a town. Created in 1896 by an unknown artist in the Russian engraving technique known as lubok, the image became one of Chagall’s favorite characters a decade and a half later.
“Chagall developed a whole repertoire of quirky motifs: ghostly figures floating in the sky, … the gigantic fiddler dancing on miniature dollhouses, the livestock and transparent wombs and, within them, tiny offspring sleeping upside down,” Michael J. Lewis wrote in his October 2008 article for Commentary magazine titled ”Whatever Happened to Marc Chagall?“
“The majority of his scenes of life in Vitebsk were painted while living in Paris, and “in a sense they were dreams,” Lewis added.
(Above: The Fiddler, 1913, by Marc Chagall, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam)