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Marc Chagall Photo

Marc Chagall

Russian-French Draftsman, Painter, and Printmaker

Born: July 7, 1887 - Vitebsk, Russian Empire (present day Belarus)
Died: March 28, 1985 - Saint-Paul, France
Movements and Styles:
"My hands were too soft.. I had to find some special occupation, some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars, that would allow me to discover the meaning of life."
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Marc Chagall Signature
"When I am finishing a picture, I hold some God-made object up to it - a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand - as a final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there's a clash between the two, it's bad art."
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Marc Chagall Signature
"Stubborn and insistent...we offer and impose our ideas, our forms- the forms and ideas of the new Revolutionary Art; we have the courage to think the future is with us."
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"Lenin turned [the country] upside down, just as I upturn my paintings"
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Marc Chagall Signature
"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."
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Marc Chagall Signature
"All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites."
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Marc Chagall Signature
"Should I paint the earth, the sky, my heart? The cities burning, my brothers fleeing? My eyes in tears. Where should I run and fly, to whom?"
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Marc Chagall Signature
"When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is."
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Pablo Picasso Signature
"Some become painters by controlling or deflecting their gifts - and even attain greatness - but Chagall was born into paint, into the canvas, into the picture, with his clumsiness and all."
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Clement Greenberg

Summary of Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall's poetic, figurative style made him one of most popular modern artists, while his long life and varied output made him one of the most internationally recognized. While many of his peers pursued ambitious experiments that led often to abstraction, Chagall's distinction lies in his steady faith in the power of figurative art, one that he maintained despite absorbing ideas from Fauvism and Cubism. Born in Russia, Chagall moved to France in 1910 and became a prominent figure within the so-called École de Paris. Later he spent time in the United States and the Middle East, travels which reaffirmed his self-image as an archetypal "wandering Jew."


  • Chagall worked in many radical modernist styles at various points throughout his career, including Cubism, Suprematism and Surrealism, all of which possibly encouraged him to work in an entirely abstract style. Yet he rejected each of them in succession, remaining committed to figurative and narrative art, making him one of the modern period's most prominent exponents of the more traditional approach.
  • Chagall's Jewish identity was important to him throughout his life, and much of his work can be described as an attempt to reconcile old Jewish traditions with styles of modernist art. However, he also occasionally drew on Christian themes, which appealed to his taste for narrative and allegory.
  • In the 1920s, Chagall was claimed as a kindred spirit by the emerging Surrealists, and although he borrowed from them, he ultimately rejected their more conceptual subject matter. Nevertheless, a dream-like quality is characteristic of almost all of Chagall's work; as the poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire once said, Chagall's work is "supernatural."

Biography of Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall, aged 68, in his studio in Vence, France (1955)

“Lines, angles, triangles, squares, carried me far away to enchanting horizons,” Chagall said of his childhood, and, as a young artist in Paris, he used those lines and geometric angles to imaginatively return to that Russian village life in his fantastic creations.

Important Art by Marc Chagall

Progression of Art
I and the Village (1911)

I and the Village

This early work clearly shows both the Cubist and Fauvist influences at play in Chagall's canvas, yet unlike the works of Picasso or Matisse, Chagall is far more playful and liberal with decorative elements, creating a pastoral paradise out of the Russian countryside. It is an early sign of the approach that would make the artist famous and influential: a blend of the modern and the figurative, with a light, whimsical tone. Chagall depicts a fairy tale in which a cow dreams of a milk maid and a man and wife (one upright, one upside down) frolic in the work fields. Abstraction is at the heart of this work, but it exists to decorate the picture rather than invite analysis of the images.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Paris Through the Window (1913)

Paris Through the Window

Paris Through the Window appears to reflect upon Chagall's feeling of divided loyalties - his love both for modern Paris and for the older patterns of life back in Russia. Hence the figure in the bottom right looks both ways, and the couple below the Eiffel Tower seems to be split apart. Upon first glance, the picture may recall one of Robert Delaunay's many fractured portraits of the Eiffel Tower, rendered in a style often referred to as Orphic Cubism. But Chagall makes no attempt here to dissect the subject or view it from multiple angles. Instead he searches for beauty in the details, creating what writer Guillaume Apollinaire called "sur-naturalist" elements, such as a two-faced head and floating human figure. The end result is a brilliantly balanced and visually appealing snapshot of Paris, juxtaposing the imaginary and the real, all seen through eyes that are both eccentric and loving.

Oil on canvas - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York

Bella with White Collar (1917)

Bella with White Collar

This portrait of Chagall's first wife, Bella, whom he married in the summer of 1915, also doubles as a love letter of sorts. Her demure face and figure stand over a lush pastoral landscape, larger than life, and may have been inspired by the traditional subject, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Chagall once remarked that, "Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love." Bella with White Collar, while certainly expressive and vibrant, stands as a lasting example of Chagall's mastery of more traditional subjects and forms, yet he no less maintains the faintest of sur-naturalist elements throughout. At Bella's feet we can see two tiny figures which presumably represent Chagall and the couple's daughter, Ida.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection


Green Violinist

Nostalgia for the artist's rustic village is at the heart of this painting. Fiddlers on rooftops were a popular motif of Chagall's, stemming from his memories of Vitebsk and the Russian countryside he called home as a child. This motif also reflects the artist's deep devotion to his Jewish cultural roots. In Green Violinist, his subject (who may represent the prophet Elijah) is an extension of the rooftops, indicated by the windows and geometric shapes in his pant legs; he is literally a colorful man, a pillar of the community, poised in rhythmic stance. Chagall also recalls with this painting the belief among the Chabad Hasidim in Vitebsk that music and dance represented a communion with God. Incidentally, the 1964 musical "Fiddler on the Roof" got its name from Chagall's paintings.

Oil on canvas - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York


White Crucifixion

Although Chagall became well known for his religious and Biblical motifs, the blatant Christian symbolism present in White Crucifixion and other works (particularly his stained-glass windows for several churches) is surprising given Chagall's devout Orthodox Jewish background. However, this work is a clear indication of Chagall's faith and his response to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe at this time; here Jesus's suffering parallels that of his people. Jesus wears a Jewish prayer shawl, and whilst he suffers on the cross, Jewish figures on all sides of him suffer as well, fleeing from marauding invaders who burn a synagogue. The painting rather poignantly inverts the notion that the crucifixion is purely a Christian symbol - indeed that might only serve as a reminder of what divides Jews from Christians. Instead it makes the Crucifixion into a sign of their common suffering.

Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago

Peace Window (1967)

Peace Window

Following the sudden death of the UN's secretary general, Dag Hammarskjold, killed in a plane crash in 1961, the Staff of the United Nations set up a Committee and a Foundation to provide a "living memorial" to Hammarskjold and all those who died in the cause of world peace. The committee invited Chagall to contribute a piece of his work, and it was soon decided that the monument would be a free-standing piece of stained glass.

The breadth and detail of the window is staggering, comprised of free-floating figures and faith-based symbols throughout, co-existing blissfully in a heaven-meets-earth setting. Chagall considered this window, today referred to as the "Chagall Window," not just a memorial to one man, but a thank-you card of sorts to the country that granted him asylum during his time of need in World War II.

Stained glass window - United Nations Building, New York

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Marc Chagall Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Jun 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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