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Marc Chagall At The Jewish Museum

by Staff Reporter

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The Apparition (1917-1918), is one of Chagall's last major paintings in Vitebsk. According to the artist, it was connected to the memory of a dream which he had during his difficult student years in St. Petersburg. Over the Town (1914-1918), was painted when Chagall and Bella had been married for more than a year. A palpable love lifts them to the sky above Vitebsk yet the floating lovers, their bodies melded in union, remain anchored to the old city below, with its cathedral and wooden huts along the banks of the Dvina. The use of geometric forms rivals some of Chagall's pioneering avant-garde Russian contemporaries. Three years following his marriage, Chagall painted The Wedding (1918). An angel above the heads of the couple foretells the birth of their baby (two years before the date of the painting), who has been drawn on the cheek of the bride, while the fiddler and house symbolize their wedded state. Chagall's Self-Portrait at the Easel (1914), painted following his return to Vitebsk to Paris, reveals his introspective nature and reflects the process of the artist coming to terms with himself and his roots.

The murals, which Chagall created in 1920 for the State Jewish Chamber Theater in Moscow, one of the most important theater groups of the period, will be shown in the context of the artist's early years in Russia. They will be presented as part of a continuum beginning with Chagall's earliest works done in his hometown of Vitebsk, which focus on his family and the environs, and end with the theater murals, his last work before leaving Russia. Chagall considered the richly crafted murals to be his personal masterpieces, expressing all he wished to say as an artist and actively relating his ideas on the development of a national Jewish theater. The work Introduction to the Jewish Theater (1920), features the artist, himself, located within circus-like rings. Through four additional murals that represent music, dance, drama, and literature, Chagall further developed this topic. With the figure of a fiddler at a wedding in Music (1920), Chagall reused a thematic subject he explored repeatedly from 1908 through the 1920s.

March Chagall's artistic odyssey of 1907 to 1922 took him from Vitebsk, him hometown in the Russian Pale of Settlement, to the art centers of St. Petersburg and Paris, and in 1914 back to Russia, where he was forced to remain due to the outbreak of World War I and through the early years following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution until his final departure in 1922. From his experiences over these fifteen years, Chagall developed the original visual vocabulary that became deeply embedded in his psyche.

March Chagall, the oldest of eight children, was born in 1887 to a struggling but loving Orthodox Jewish family. Chagall was drawn to art at an early age, but because of the long-standing tradition against representation in Judaism, as well as the uncertainty of such a career, his family did not understand or approve. Nonetheless, his determination to become a painter led him to attend two important Russian art schools, both directed by Jewish artists: Yehuda Pen's School of Painting in Vitebsk and the Svantseva School in St. Petersburg, directed by L´┐Żon Bakst. In these schools, he was thrust into a world of artistic ferment and was able to explore the major developments in Western European art.

Some of his first canvases were portraits of his family, which included the town of Vitebsk, with its vibrant mixture of Jewish and Russian cultures. Chagall's art during this period was deeply influenced by his family's Hasidic beliefs. The antirationalist current in this movement, based on mystic religious fervor and joy as the means of serving God, reverberates in Chagall's floating images and dreamlike visions.

In 1909, Chagall was introduced to Bella Rosenfeld, daughter of a wealthy Vitebsk jeweler, and began an enduring relationship that would profoundly change his life and outlook. Their love provided the artist with an inexhaustible source of inspiration for over thirty-five years.

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