Marc Chagall Biography
Marc Zakharovich Chagall (/ʃəˈɡɑːl/ shə-GAHL; born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal; 6 July [O.S. 24 June] 1887 – 28 March 1985) was a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin. An early modernist, he was associated with several major artistic styles and created works in virtually every artistic format, including painting, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramic, tapestries and fine art prints.
Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as “the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century” (though Chagall saw his work as “not the dream of one people but of all humanity”). According to art historian Michael J. Lewis, Chagall was considered to be “the last survivor of the first generation of European modernists”. For decades, he “had also been respected as the world’s preeminent Jewish artist”. Using the medium of stained glass, he produced windows for the cathedrals of Reims and Metz, windows for the UN, and the Jerusalem Windows in Israel. He also did large-scale paintings, including part of the ceiling of the Paris Opéra.
Before World War I, he traveled between Saint Petersburg, Paris, and Berlin. During this period he created his own mixture and style of modern art based on his idea of Eastern European Jewish folk culture. He spent the wartime years in Soviet Belarus, becoming one of the country’s most distinguished artists and a member of the modernist avant-garde, founding the Vitebsk Arts College before leaving again for Paris in 1922.
He had two basic reputations, writes Lewis: as a pioneer of modernism and as a major Jewish artist. He experienced modernism’s “golden age” in Paris, where “he synthesized the art forms of Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism, and the influence of Fauvism gave rise to Surrealism”. Yet throughout these phases of his style “he remained most emphatically a Jewish artist, whose work was one long dreamy reverie of life in his native village of Vitebsk.” “When Matisse dies,” Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is”.
Marc Chagall was born Moishe Segal in a Lithuanian Jewish Hassidic family in Liozna, near the city of Vitebsk (Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire) in 1887. At the time of his birth, Vitebsk’s population was about 66,000, with half the population being Jewish. A picturesque city of churches and synagogues, it was called “Russian Toledo”, after a cosmopolitan city of the former Spanish Empire. As the city was built mostly of wood, little of it survived years of occupation and destruction during World War II.
Chagall was the eldest of nine children. The family name, Shagal, is a variant of the name Segal, which in a Jewish community was usually borne by a Levitic family. His father, Khatskl (Zachar) Shagal, was employed by a herring merchant, and his mother, Feige-Ite, sold groceries from their home. His father worked hard, carrying heavy barrels but earning only 20 roubles each month (the average wages across the Russian Empire being 13 roubles a month). Chagall would later include fish motifs “out of respect for his father”, writes Chagall biographer, Jacob Baal-Teshuva. Chagall wrote of these early years:
This is a part of the Wikipedia article used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). The full text of the article is here →