Chagall, Marc (1889-1985)
Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Belarus, a town that is often featured in his paintings. Although he came from a large and relatively poor family his parents recognized his talent and saw that he received art lessons in Vitebsk before going on to St. Petersburg to study with Leon Baskt, a brilliant designer of theatrical sets and costumes. It was in St. Petersburg that Chagall had his first contact with European contemporary art. This encouraged him to go to Paris in 1910. He was soon a member of the large group of foreign artists living in Montmartre and his circle of friends included Modigliani, La Fresnaye and Delaunay. Almost immediately, Chagall began to paint in his own personal style, using a bright palette and taking his subject matter from childhood memories. These were at first presented in large Cubist planes that soon vanished from his compositions.
Chagall's first big exhibition was held in Berlin in 1914 and his colour and subject matter influenced post-war German artists. Chagall himself spent the war years in Russia and was appointed Commissar of Fine Arts for the Vitebsk area after the Russian Revolution of 1917. He left this post after a disagreement with the Suprematist painter, Malevich, and went to Moscow to paint murals for the Jewish Theatre, finally retuning to France in 1922. His reputation was established by that time and he received commissions to illustrate several books, the most important being the Bible, for which he travelled to the Holy Land.
Chagall spent the years of the Nazi occupation in the United States and returned to France to settle in 1947. Later in his life he divided his time between Venice and Paris, painting, designing stained-glass windows, and giving away his great public works, such as those for the United Nations, the Jerusalem Synagogue, and the Paris and New York opera houses.
Chagall's painting with its delicate, undulating line and its brilliant, varied palette, offers a world in which the laws of gravity are overturned and dreams come true. His world was a happy mixture of dream and reality, fantasy and nostalgia, delight in nature and in music, and a genuine love of humanity.