Marc Chagall • Russia, Frence

Marc Chagall, (born July 7, 1887, Vitebsk, Belorussia, Russian Empire died March 28, 1985, Saint-Paul, Alpes-Maritimes, France), French painter, printmaker, and designer. He composed his images based on emotional and poetic associations, rather than on rules of pictorial logic.

Predating Surrealism, his early works, were among the first expressions of psychic reality in modern art. His works in various media include sets for plays and ballets, etchings illustrating the Bible, and stained-glass windows.

The young Chagall attended the heder (Jewish elementary school) and later went to the local public school. After learning the elements of drawing at school, he studied painting in the studio of a local realist, Jehuda Pen. In 1907 Chagall went to St. Petersburg, where he studied intermittently for three years. In 1910, with a living allowance provided by a St. Petersburg patron, Chagall went to Paris. After a year and a half in Montparnasse, he moved into a studio on the edge of town in the ramshackle settlement for bohemian artists that was known as La Ruche (“the Beehive”). There, he met the avant-garde poets, as well as a number of young painters destined to become famous: In such company, nearly every sort of pictorial audacity was encouraged, and Chagall responded to the stimulus by rapidly developing the poetic and seemingly irrational tendencies he had begun to display in Russia. Under the influence of the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Fauvist pictures he saw in Paris museums and commercial galleries, he gave up the usually somber palette he had employed at home.

The four years of his first stay in the French capital are often considered Chagall’s best phase. The often-whimsical figurative elements, frequently upside down, are distributed on the canvas in an arbitrary fashion, producing an effect that sometimes resembles a film montage and suggests the inner space of a reverie.

Chagall had learned the techniques of engraving while in Berlin. Through his friend, he met the Paris art dealer and publisher who commissioned Chagall to create a series of etchings to illustrate a special edition launched Chagall on a long career as a printmaker. Including the Le Fond Jaune in our collection.

Chagall’s repertory of images, including massive bouquets, melancholy clowns, flying lovers, fantastic animals, biblical prophets, and fiddlers on roofs, helped to make him one of the most popular major innovators of the 20th-century School of Paris. He presented dreamlike subject matter in rich colours and in a fluent, painterly style that—while reflecting an awareness of artistic movements such as Expressionism, Cubism, and even abstraction—remained invariably personal. The artist’s large total output, there is agreement that at its best it reached a level of visual metaphor seldom attempted in modern art.

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