Marc Chagall, Jewish painter of Russian origin, nationalized French, was born on July 7, 1887, in the village of Vitebsk, and died in 1985, at the age of 97, in France. Between 1907 and 1910 he studied art in Saint Petersburg with the painters Nikolai Roerich and León Bakst.
When he began to be recognized as an artist, he left his country for Montparnasse, Paris; there he works with a group of artists, where he meets Picasso and Matisse; although four years later, in 1914, he returns to his native village, gets married, occupies an administrative position, actively participates in the cultural renewal of Russia, founds and directs an art school; however, his differences with the painter Malevich, a professor at that school, forced him to move to Moscow. Then the demands of the revolution to link art with politics, induced him, in 1924, to leave his country again, passing through Germany, France -where he is linked to the School of Paris, distinguished by the heterogeneity of styles-, and the United States, where he resides until the end of World War II, at which time he returns and settle permanently in France.
Chagall was an artist who experimented with a stylistic diversity that doesn’t allow him to be placed in a particular artistic current, since in his work several tendencies are combined, interpreted in a very personal and free way, with a playful orientation. In his compositions he masterfully combined and synthesized elements of Cubism, Expressionism, Fauvism and Surrealism.
Marc Chagall’s theme, to whose reduced repertoire of images he remains faithful throughout his life, is inspired by his childhood experiences, folk tales, and traditions of his country, particularly in his native village, Vitebsk. In the same way, he represented biblical themes, which refer to his Jewish roots. His works, developed in scenes of dreamlike atmospheres full of fantasy and mystery, transmit tranquility, peace, optimism, joy. Chagall used to incorporate himself as a character in his compositions, sometimes together with his wife, the writer Bella Rosenfeld (1915–1944), suspended in the air like an observer of the world from above.
Let’s see certain characteristics of shape and content in some of Chagall’s emblematic artworks.
I and the Village (1) , from 1911, represents the dreams and memories of his childhood. In the upper part of the composition there is a town, which we suppose alludes to the village where the artist was born, with a church, some houses and two people, a peasant and a woman, who is inverted, upside down, floating, like some of the houses in the town, very typical of his dreamlike visual discourse, an element taken and reinterpreted from surrealism. In the central part of the composition, diagonally, we see two faces, face to face, that of a man and a cow’s head, which are connected by their gaze by a thin thread. The painting also shows a woman milking a cow, both figures as if embedded in the head (thought) of the cow, a common image in Chagall’s work. Almost all the figures are made in the cubist way, geometrized, faceted, and superimposed on planes, whose color palette recalls the chromaticism of the Fauves with the subtlety of Chagall.
Chagall said that love was the main color of his paintings. Birthday (2), from 1915, is a painting in which the artist celebrates the love he felt for his wife. As a sign of the passion they both shared, Chagall paints himself, without arms, floating next to his wife. His head is upside down, thrown back, as he turns to kiss his partner, who is also rising from the ground. This composition, where gravity and perspective are challenged, is characterized by its expressionist, fauvist, and surrealist features.
The Blue Violinist (3), from 1947, is one of Chagall’s compositions where we can say that his style is more defined, very poetic, dreamlike, fantastic; here we can introduce the metaphor of Henry Miller, who said that Chagall was “a poet with the wings of a painter”. The musician, placed under the moon, in the center of the composition, diagonally, is larger than the houses over which he floats like a musical note, thus transcending material reality. In this work, cold color stains dominate, cobalt blue, purple, green and white, which contrast with the warmth of the red on the face of the violinist and the flowers, as well as with the orange of the violin.
With the freedom, imagination and innocence of a child, Chagall cultivated for more than eighty years a painting inspired by the joy of his life rather than its adversities. His work carries and transmits his memories, his Russian and Jewish traditions, as well as the historical events and artistic events of which he was a witness and, on many occasions, a protagonist.