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Marc Chagall

French-Russian Draftsman, Painter, and Printmaker

Movements and Styles: Expressionism, Cubism

Born: July 7, 1887 - Vitebsk, Russian Empire (present day Belarus)

Died: March 28, 1985 - Saint-Paul, France

Marc Chagall Timeline

"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."

Marc Chagall Signature

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 Ecole 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."

Key Ideas

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."
Marc Chagall, aged 68, in his studio in Vence, France (1955)
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 Important Art and Analysis

The below artworks are the most important by Marc Chagall - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

I and the Village (1911)
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I and the Village (1911)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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 - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Paris Through the Window (1913)
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Paris Through the Window (1913)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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 - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Bella with White Collar (1917)
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Bella with White Collar (1917)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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

More Marc Chagall Artwork and Analysis:

Green Violinist (1923-24) White Crucifixion (1938) Peace Window (1967)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Marc Chagall
Interactive chart with Marc Chagall's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart
Show influences

Artists

Leon BakstLeon Bakst
Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse

Personal Contacts

Guillaume ApollinaireGuillaume Apollinaire
Robert DelaunayRobert Delaunay
Fernand LégerFernand Léger
Ambroise VollardAmbroise Vollard

Movements

SymbolismSymbolism
FauvismFauvism
CubismCubism
ExpressionismExpressionism
Russian FuturismRussian Futurism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall
Years Worked: 1910 - 1985
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
El LissitzkyEl Lissitzky
Ossip ZadkineOssip Zadkine
Diego RiveraDiego Rivera
Joan MiróJoan Miró

Personal Contacts

André BretonAndré Breton
Henry McBrideHenry McBride
Robert HughesRobert Hughes

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" 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. Information
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