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Marc Chagall is Born, 1887

On This Day in Jewish History: July 7, 1887:



Marc Chagall, born Moishe Shagal, was born in Belorussia, Russian Empire (now Belarus) to Hasidic working-class parents as the first of 9 children. After attending Jewish day school and Russian public school, Chagall became interested in painting. He studied painting with a local realist artist, Jehuda Pen, and then moved to St. Petersburg to study with stage designer Leon Bakst. Often depiciting his Jewish heritage and upbringing, Chagall worked for 75 years, where he produced 10,000 works of art. Many pieces can be seen today in the Knesset in the ‘Chagall Hall’, where pieces depict Jerusalem as a large tenet of Judaism. His work is also featured in the UN as a tribute that exhibits numerous symbols of love and peace.


In 1910 Chagall began his work as an artist when he moved into a settlement in Paris known for its bohemian artists called La Ruche or the Beehive. It was here under the influence of such artists that Chagall began more rapidly creating poetic and unusual pieces of art. Five years later, he married Bella Rosenfeld, the daughter of a merchant, who frequently appeared in his paintings such as Double Portrait with a Glass of Wine (1917). During the first World War, he turned to more realism and painted local scenes as well as a series studying older men which includes the work The Praying Jew (1914) and Jew in Green (1914).


After settling in Paris with his wife and children, he began a career as a printmaker when he was commissioned by Ambroise Vollard to create a series of etchings to illustrate the novel Dead Souls by Nikolay Gogol. Vollard commissioned Chagall again but by the time Chagall had completed the work, World War II was in the midst and Vollard had passed away. It would only be after the war that Chagall’s work would be completed. His engraving work includes Dead Souls (1948), Fables (1952), and the Bible in 1956.


Chagall's work predated the 20th century surrealist movement, but much of his work depiced the emotional and unconscious minds. Using whimsical, figurative elements, his pieces often resembled a film montage on canvas. Because of this, in 1939 the Nazi's burned numerous pieces of Chagall's art. At the onset of World War II, Chagall began depicting more realistic and conscious thought on canvas. White Crucifixion (1938) depicted Jewish and Christian symbols, combined with German Jews being terrorized by Nazi’s. When the war finally broke out, Chagall moved to the Loire district of France and continued moving further south until July 1941 when his family took refuge in New York City thanks to the director of the Museum of Modern Art who created a list of artists and intellectuals deemed most at risk from the Nazi’s. It was because of this director that 2000 people received visas and were able to escape the Nazis.


After the passing of his wife and the end of the war, Chagall moved back to France. While he continued to paint on canvas, his later years were also spent doing stained glass work which can be seen at the Cathedral of Metz in France, the synagogue of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, the United Nations building in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. His dreamlike subjects with vibrant colours and a unique style full of motifs made him one of the biggest influences in 20th century art and in 1977, he was the recipient of the Grand Medal of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest accolade. Despite the times he lived in, Chagall never seemed to hide his Judaism, inspiring countless Jews and artists to tap into their emotional and poetic abilities.


 

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