Marc Chagall’s Jewish Identity Was Crucial to His Best Work
“When Chagall paints you do not know if he is asleep or awake. Somewhere or other inside his head there must be an angel.” –Pablo Picasso
Amongst the twentieth century’s most groundbreaking and best loved artists stands the incomparable Marc Chagall, whose vibrant palette, joyous compositions, and uncompromising style overcame boundaries of time, nationality, and religion. His dream-like visions of love, camaraderie, and happiness continue to resonate; his brightly colored paintings remain a joy to behold. No other twentieth century artist had Chagall’s gift for harmony, and his canvases present intimate, otherworldly visions of his own warm, aesthetic world.
Chagall is best known for his dream-like canvases that often read as adventures of his imagination, filled with a joy and longing for a world in harmony. In Le Repas des Amoureux, Chagall presents a vivid narrative of both romantic and neighborly love. A young couple is depicted, seemingly in prayer, at a dining table in the center of the composition. All around them, Chagall has infused the canvas with joyous figures who appear to float above and around the scene; along the upper border, these figures are painted upside down, strengthening the impression that the community has surrounded this young couple with support and affection.
Simultaneously naïve and hopeful, the composition communicates Chagall’s vision of one peaceful family of humanity, one world of brotherly peace. Undeniably, Chagall imbues his work with a joyful optimism through his use of fantastic imagery and vivid colors. It is his uncanny ability to convey his imaginative and lighthearted spirit through canvas that ranks him as a master of modern art.
His later works, such as this one, display his gift for harmonizing the avant-garde movements of the preceding decades, as well as his refusal to adhere to a single one. While throughout his artistic career, his works betrayed the influences of the Cubists, Supremacists, Surrealists, and Abstract Expressionists, Chagall remained on the margins of these major movements. His aesthetics, subjects and visual explorations were always uniquely his own. Today, his works stand out as a triumph of modernism, his images at once personal and universal, expressing his own simple hopes and those of humanity.
Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Russia to a large, close-knit Jewish family of herring merchants. Throughout his life, he described these years as happy yet impoverished, a sentiment expressed in his canvases. He began studying painting in 1906 under famed artist Yehuda Pen. In 1907, he moved to St. Petersburg and joined the school of the Society of Art Supporters, studying under Nikolai Roerich, and was exposed to every school and artistic style imaginable during his tenure there. Chagall remained in St. Petersburg until 1910 when he moved to Paris in order to be near the art community of the Montparnasse district. In 1914, he returned to his hometown and married Bella Rosenfeld, the subject and inspiration for much of his work.
He became active in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and was made the Commissar of Art for the Vitebsk region. Not faring well under the new Soviet regime, Chagall and his family moved back to Paris in 1923. During this time, he published memoirs, articles and poetry in Yiddish and became a French citizen in 1937. With the outbreak of World War II, the Chagalls fled Paris and settled in the United States in 1941. His wife Bella died from illness in 1944 and he fell into a deep depression and made the decision to move back to Europe in 1946. The next few years in Chagall's life were intense, with his works reflecting a new, vibrant ambiance. He was able to escape his depression when he met Virginia Haggard, with whom he had a son, and his new-found happiness was expressed through his works (including sculpture, ceramics and stained glass) that were dedicated to love and the joy of life.
In 1952, Chagall remarried and traveled extensively, including a trip to Israel in 1960 in which he created stained glass windows for the synagogue of the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem and in 1966, a mural for the new parliament building. Other public artworks he completed during this time include the mosaic murals of the Metropolitan Opera House and the stained glass wall of the United Nations Headquarters, both in New York. Chagall died at the age of 97 in Saint-Paul de Vence, France in 1985, leaving behind an incredible body of work that continues to demand the highest attention in the art community.
This painting is accompanied by a letter of authenticity from the Comité Marc Chagall, dated October 17, 2014.
Frame: 47 1/4” high x 39 1/4” wide
Paper: 30 1/4” high x 22 1/2” wide
Signature: Signed “Cha gall” (upper center)
Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 1976, E. Bénézit
Marc Chagall, 2003, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Marc Chagall 1887-1985: Painting as Poetry, I. Walther and R. Metzger, 2006
Estate of the artist
David McNeil, Paris (by descent from the above)
Private collection, Japan 1999
Sale: Mallet Japan, 25 January 2008, lot 167
Private collection, Tokyo
Honored for his distinct style and pioneering role among Jewish artists, Marc Chagall painted dream-like subjects rooted in personal history and Eastern European folklore. He worked in several mediums, including painting, printmaking, and book illustration, and his stained glass windows can be seen in New York, France, and Jerusalem. Chagall arrived in Paris in 1910 and began experimenting with Cubism, befriending painters Robert Delaunay and Fernand Léger. Chagall’s style has been described as a hybrid of Cubism, Fauvism, and Symbolism, and his supernatural subjects are thought to have significantly influenced the Surrealists. Though he actively engaged in the Parisian artistic community, art for Chagall was first and foremost a means of personal expression. He preferred to be considered separately from other artists, his imagery and allegory uniquely his own.
Russian-French, 1887-1985, Vitebsk, Belarus
Marc Chagall’s Jewish Identity Was Crucial to His Best Work
Your Kids Will Love These Children’s Books Illustrated by Famous Artists
A Marc Chagall painting was recovered nearly 30 years after it was stolen from an Upper East Side home.