For me, the start of this unbelievable story is Chagall’s depiction of the blue house, calling to mind his cherished hometown Vitebsk (en Biélorussie) where it all began. This is the place in which he had so much hope—he would have loved its type of banality, the soviet constraint. The soviet party names him commissioner of fine arts, and his dream of creating a revolutionary art school comes to fruition, attracting a number of artists intrigued by the innovation of Kasimir Malevitch. Disappointed by the institution, he chooses to resign and pursue broader artistic horizons where he can be freer.
“…My life is sad and joyful..” Excerpt from “My Life”, 1922
In Vitebsk, Chagall’s mother rejects the rules and signs him up to attend a Russian school where Jews are forbidden. It is here that he discovers drawing and meets Bella, a cultured and charming girl that becomes his great love. He takes pleasure in hearing her approve his paintings, as she remarks “yes, not bad.”
“Love is very important, love I say all the time, there is only that…there is only love…” he insists.
He doesn’t hesitate to leave the Parisian artists-residence Ruch, to meet Bella in Russia. On practically the same day, the First World War commences, prompting the closure of European borders. Thus, the pair must stay in Russia, where the have their daughter Ida.
He doesn’t return to Paris until 1924, when Ambroise Vollard calls him to illustrate the Fontaine fables, a French project for which he recreates the characters and animals in vibrant colours.
I am impressed by the accumulation of details, characters, and houses he paints in the time before his return to France, which appear as though he had the impression it would be his last time seeing them. A piece of his beloved city will always be preserved in each of these works, serving as portals of his Slavic roots.
“It is mine alone, the country that I find in my soul, I enter it without a passport like it sees the sadness and loneliness in me.” Excerpt from “It is Mine Alone” 1945-50
Vitebsk faces the effects of the Holocaust, as its Jewish populations are exterminated during this time. The wandering Jew did not possess an idea of belonging, as they have to abandon their lives on countless occasions. Chagall’s work embodies this idea of life, elements of Vitebsk inserted in much of his art.
I am struck by the face of the artist, his large smile and his enchanting blue eyes. He exudes a liveliness and strength, in spite of the struggles that fail to break him. His love of art sustains him, and he creates his own universe that is never swayed by other movements like Derain’s fauvism, Picasso and Braque’s cubism, or Delaunay’s Orphism. It’s like he is climbing on rooftops with his violin, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, and observing the world. He paints his life in a whirlwind, where each element of his destiny seems to reside. At age 35, he writes an autobiography entitled, “My Life,” fictionalised.
“The moon is a part of the family, like the quiet village, the village in the mature heart, with the honey roots that the wedding night waters.” Paul Eluard comments on a painting.
Chagall enjoys the circus immensely: in Vitebsk the circus entertainers await him with happiness, freedom, fantasy, and music. The entire show is like a childhood dream that he maintains within himself.
In 1962, he works on this theme, creating 23 lithographs and writing text for the first time.
“I walk on a celestial bridge. Transparent years, like the clouds floating around me.” Excerpt from Circus.
Upon his return to Paris, he can’t find the paintings he left at Ruche and thus, recreates certain lost works from that time.
In 1941, he obtains French citizenship but must flee his country. He leaves for America on a boat with other artists, in which he finds his place among the troop, including Matisse, Ernst, Masson, Dali, Duchamp, Zadkine (also born in Vitesbsk.) The group organises an exhibition with the suitable title “Artists in Exile.”
During the public burning of “degenerate art,” in 1937, the nazis destroy Chagall’s work.
Following Paris’ liberation in 1944, Chagall plans his return to France. On the eve of his departure, Bella, who he had loved for thirty years, dies from sickness. Chagall falls into a deep depression, not touching a paintbrush for a whole year. But the force of his art restores a new desire in him, and he rekindles his artistic career. Some years later, he remarries a woman named Vava.
Love is consistently present in his paintings, celebrated within each composition. Aragon is greatly inspired by Chagall’s painting, writing poems of adoration in which he expresses, “It is him that says things without saying anything at all.”
The artist possesses a musical soul, loving Mozart and the incredible sets and wardrobes of the ballet Daphnis and Chloé.
And it is at the premier of this ballet that Malraux tells him about the ceiling project at the opera, seeing Chagall as “a master colourist of the time.”
Chagall remains eternally faithful to his Slavic roots, incorporating his love of the country in all of his work.
We want to love a painter like Chagall, who, through colours, translates the feelings we experience everyday.
You have until November 1st to discover the work of Marc Chagall, at the Fonds Hélène & Édouard Leclerc. The exhibit mirrors that of Philharmonie de Paris’ (October 13, 2015-January 31, 2016,) which plays an important role in the musical elements present in Chagall’s work from the 1920s-60s. He and Vava lived in Saint-Paul-de-Venice until 1985, when Chagall passed away. There, you’ll find traces of his presence in “ »Colombe d’Or » or “Café de la Place” where he spent much time with his friends. Among these companions were André Verdet and Aimé and Marguerite Maeght whose house “Le Mas Bernard” neighboured that of the artist’s. Moreover, several of Chagall’s works are found in the permanent collection of the Maeght Foundation, including “The Lovers,” which greets visitors at the building’s entrance. Another notable work of the collection is “The Life,” a grand painting whose colours come to life beyond the canvas’ surface.
On another note, Jean-Louis Prat, the previous director of the Maeght Foundation curated this Chagall exhibit and the exhibit, “Picasso, his last work, an Hommage to Jacqueline.” These two artists worked in the same ceramic studio in the South of France but on different floors, intentionally not crossing paths…