Last modified on 14 June 2014, at 01:38

Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall, 1942

Marc Chagall (24 June 188728 March 1985) was a Russian-Jewish painter who was born in Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. He worked in Paris from 1910 till 1914, and after his Russian years (1914–1922) he returned to Paris. Among the celebrated painters of the 20th century, he is associated with the modern movements after Impressionism, but found the motifs of his painting in his religious Russian background.

QuotesEdit

1910sEdit

self-portrait by Marc Chagall, 1914
  • I am working in Paris. I cannot for a single day get the thought out of my head that there probably exists something essential, some immutable reality, and now that I have lost everything else (thank God, it gets lost all on its own) I am trying to preserve this and, what is more, not to be content. In a word: I am working.
    • In a letter to A. N. Benois, 1911, as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 146
  • If Russian painters were condemned to become the pupils of the West they were, I think, rather unfaithful ones by their very nature. The best Russian realist conflicts with the realism of Courbet. The most authentic Russian Impressionism leaves on perplexed if one compares it with Monet and Pisarro. Here, in the Louvre, before the canvases of Manet, Millet and others, I understood why my alliance with Russia and Russian art did not take root. Why my language itself is foreign to them. Why people do not place confidence in me. Why the artistic circles fail to recognize me. Why in Russia I am entirely useless.. ..In Paris, it seemed to me that I was discovering everything, above all a mastery of technique.. ..It was not in technique alone that I sought the meaning of art then. It was as if the gods had stood before me.. ..I had the impression that we are still only roaming on the surface of matter, that we are afraid to plunge into chaos, to shatter and overthrow beneath our feet the familiar surface. (reaction on his first arrival in Paris, 1910)
    • In: Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 262, (translation Daphne Woodward)
  • In response I am sending you some pictures which I painted in Paris out of homesickness for Russia. They are not very typical of me; I have selected the most modest ones for the Russian exhibition.
    • In a letter to Mstislav V. Dobushinsky, A. N. Benois, 1912; as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 147
  • My works are dear to me, each in its own way, I shall have to answer for them on the Day off Judgement. God alone knows whether I shall ever see them again. Quite apart from the money which I was going to receive for their sale there (exhibition in Gallery Der Sturm, Berlin June-July, 1914) and it is no small sum..
    • In a letter to A. N. Benois, 1914, on his return to Russia; as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 147
  • The sun has only ever shone for me in France (it certainly did that!). I have got used to beating the streets of Paris, happy beyond words dreaming of a life 125 years long - with the Louvre radiant in the distance. (Chagall couldn't go back to Paris because of the outbreak of the first World War in 1914). Having ended up in the Russian provinces, << I have decided to die >>.
    • In a letter to Sergei K. Markovsky, 1915; as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 149
  • ..But it doesn’t frighten me, because I studied in France, thank God, and I know of no artist in history who was not ‘literary’ when it came down to it. Not a single one. And even if they don’t appear to be, I know of none and you at least don’t recall them, because there is nothing to recall.. ..Sometime or other I’d like to see a << pure >> artist, but I didn't even find one in France. Obviously the trouble is that one approaches painting from the other side, so that the word << sujet >> conceals the point of the thing. Yet even the most beautiful and << emptiest >> sujet (an apple, a grape or any << non-figurative painting >>) doesn't help if there are no foundations, either innate or acquired through hard work.. ..Why don’t we say clearly: << That is freedom, and this is commitment to the subject >> and << to each tree its berries >>, but let it be a tree and not a donkey..
    • In a letter to A. N. Benois, 1918; as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 150
  • Or is all this fuss actually important for << art history >>? Oh, no, never. If things only ever originated as a result of such competition (between subject- and subjectless art) , it wouldn't be worth living among them, like an accidental, capricious toy. Clearly there is a greater, a more serene and more modest power, but we are either too lazy to live by its laws, or we have no time, or it "hurts too much".
    • In a letter to A. N. Benois, 1918; as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 150
  • At present there is an extremely exaggerated formation of groups (students on the School of Art in Vitebsk) around 'trend'; there are 1. young people following Malevich and 2. young people following me. We both belong to the left-wing artistic movement, although we have different ideas about ends and means. Obviously it would take too long to talk about this problem now.. ..But there is one thing I will tell you: Although I was born in Russia - and what is more: in the "settlement territory" – I was trained abroad and am all the more sensitive to everything that is taking place here in the field of art (the fine arts). The memory of the splendour of the original is much to painful for me ..[to live – crossed out]
    • In a letter to Pavel Davidovitch Ettering, 2 April, 1920, as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 73


1920sEdit

Marc Chagall, 1921
  • Now at least "artists have the upper hand" in the town (Vitebsk). They get totally engrossed in their disputes about art (between constructivists and suprematists), I am utterly exhausted and 'dream' of 'abroad'.. ..After all, there is no more suitable place for artists to be (for me, at least) than at the easel, and I dream of being able to devote myself exclusively to my pictures. Of course, little by little one paints something, but it’s not the real thing. (Chagall was director of the Art School of Vitebsk, including many conflicts)
    • In a letter to Pavel Davidovitch Ettering, 2 April, 1920, as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 74
  • After completing my work (his murals for the Jewish Theater) I thought, as has been agreed, that ot would be shown in public as a series of my latest things. The management will agree with me that I can find no inner peace as a painter until the 'masses' see my work etc. It turned out that the things (the murals) had been put into a 'cage', as it were, where they can be seen at the very best by (if you will forgive me for saying so) Jews at close quarters. I like the Jews a lot (there’s enough 'proof' of that) but I like the Russians as well and some other nationalities, and I am used to painting serious things for many 'nationalities'.
    • In a letter to the management of the State Jewish Kamerny Theater, 1921, as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 89
  • I set to work. I pointed a mural for the main wall: Introduction to the New National Theatre. The other interior walls, the ceiling and the friezes depicted the forerunners of the contemporary actor – a popular musician, a wedding jester, a good woman dancing, a copyist of the Torah, the first poet dreamer, and finally a modern couple flying over the stage. The friezes were decorated with dishes and food, beigels and fruits spread out on well-laid tables. I looked forward to meeting the actors who passed me: ‘Let us agree. Let’s join forces and throw out all this old rubbish. Let’s work a miracle! (around 1921)
    • In 'Chagall in the Yiddish Theater', Avram Kampf, as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 101
  • In exasperation, I furiously attacked the floors and walls of the Moscow Theater. My mural paintings sight there, in obscurity. Have you seen them? Rant and rave, my contemporaries! In one way or another, my first theatrical alphabet gave you a belly-ache. Not modest? I’ll leave that to my grandmother: it bores me. Despise me, if you like. (ca. 1921)
    • In 'Chagall in the Yiddish Theater', Avram Kampf, as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 94
  • The stars were my best friends. The air was full of legends and phantoms, full of mythical and fair-tale creatures, which suddenly flew away over the roof, so that one was at one with the firmament.
    • In a writing by Chagall, in Chagall’s early work in the Soviet Union, Alexander Kamensky, as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 41
  • If I weren't a Jew (in the sense in which I use the word) then I wouldn’t be an artist, or at least not the one I am now.
    • In Bletlach (Leaflet), (essay in Yiddish), Marc Chagall, in 'Shtrom' No. 1, 1922
  • The Jews might well, were they of such a mind (as I am, lament the disappearance of all those who painted the wooden synagogues in the small towns and villages (oh why haven’t I gone to my grave with them!), and the carvers of the wooden "school mallets" – "quiet boy!" (and if you should see them in Ansky’s collection, you’ll get a shock!). But is there really any difference between my ancestor from Mohiliev, who painted the synagogue there, and myself, who painted the Jewish theater in Moscow (and a good theatre it is at that)?.. ..I am convinced that, were I to stop shaving, you would see in me a deceptive likeness.
    • In Bletlach (Leaflet), (essay in Yiddish), Marc Chagall, in ’Shtrom’ No. 1, 1922
  • Back in the days (a later reflection on his early Parish years) when I was in Paris in my studio in 'La Ruche', through the partition I heard two Jewish emigrants arguing: 'Well, what would you say? Wasn’t Antokolsky a Jewish artist? And Israels? And what about Liebermann?' The dim light of the lamp lit up my picture, which was upside down (that’s the way I work – so consider yourself yourselves lucky!). As morning came, and the Parisian sky started to brighten up, I had to laugh about the futile comments of my neighbours on the fate of Jewish art: 'You two wind-backs can carry on – but I've got work to do'.
    • In Bletlach (Leaflet), (essay in Yiddish), Marc Chagall, in 'Shtrom' No. 1, 1922
  • If I weren't a Jew (in the sense in which I use the word) then I wouldn't be an artist, or at least not the one I am now.
    • In Bletlach (Leaflet), (essay in Yiddish), Marc Chagall, in ’Shtrom’ No. 1, 1922


My life (1922)Edit

My life, by Marc Chagall - written in Moscow in 1921–1922

  • ‘There you are’, said Efros (Granovsky, director of the State Jewish Chamber Theater, in 1920), leading me into a dark room, 'These walls are all yours, you can do what you like with them'. It was a completely demolished apartment that had been abandoned by bourgeois refugees. 'You see', he continued, 'the benches for the audience will be here; the stage there'. To tell the truth, all I could see there was the remains of a kitchen.. ..And I flung myself at the walls. The canvases were stretched out on the floor. Workmen, actors walked over them. The rooms and corridors were in the process of being repaired; piles of shavings lay among my tubes of paint, my sketches. At every step one dislodged cigarette-ends, crusts of bread.
    • quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 38
  • Only the great distance that separates Paris from my native town prevented me from going back.. ..It was the Louvre that put end to all these hesitations. When I walked around the circular Veronese room and the rooms that the works of Manet, Delacroix and Courbet are in, I desired nothing more. In my imagination Russia (where Chagall was born) took the form of a basket suspended from a parachute. The deflated pear of the balloon was hanging down, growing cold and descending slowly in the course of the years. This was how Russian art appeared to me, or something of the sort.. ..It was as if Russian art had been fatally condemned to remain in the wake of the West. (on his arrival in Paris in 1910)
    • quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock -, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 261, (translation Daphne Woodward)
  • ..No academy could have given me all I discovered by getting my teeth into the exhibitions, the shop windows, and the museums of Paris. Beginning with the market – where, for lack of money, I bought only a piece of a long cucumber – the workman in his blue overall, the most ardent followers of Cubism, everything showed a definite feeling for proportion, clarity, an accurate sense of form, of a more painterly kind of painting, even in the canvases of second-rate artists.
    • quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 29
  • My grandfather, a teacher of religion, could think of nothing better than to place my father – his eldest son, still a child – as a clerk with a firm of herring wholesalers, and his youngest son with a barber. No, my father was not a clerk, but, for thirty-two years, a plain workman (in the Jewish ghetto of Vitebsk). He lifted heavy barrels, and my heart used to twist like a Turkish pretzel as I watched him carrying those loads and stirring the little herrings with his frozen hands.. ..Sometimes my father’s clothes would glisten with herring brine. The light played above him, besides him. But his face, now yellow, now clear, would sometimes break into a wan smile.
    • quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 23
  • Listen what happened to me when I was in the fifth form (ca. 1904), in the drawing lesson. An old-timer in the front row, the one who pinched me the most often, suddenly showed me a sketch on tissue paper, copied from the magazine "Niva": The Smoker. In this pandemonium! Leave me alone. I don’t remember very well but this drawing, done not by me but by that fathead, immediately threw me into a rage. It roused a hyena in me. I ran to the library, grabbed that big volume of "Niva" and began to copy the portrait of the composer Rubinstein, fascinated by his crow’s-feet and his wrinkles, or by a Greek woman and other illustrations; maybe I improvised some too, I hung them all up in my bedroom..
    • quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, pp. 24-25
  • Two or three o’clock in the morning (in his studio, around 1911, in 'La Ruche' an old factory where many artists as Soutine, Archipenko, Léger and Modigliani had their studio). The sky is blue. Dawn is breaking. Down there, a little way off, they slaughtered cattle, cows bellowed, and I painted them. I used to sit up like that all night long. It’s already a week since the studio was cleaned out. Frames, eggshells, empty two-sou soup tins lie about higgledy-piggledy.. ..On the shelves, reproductions of El Greco and Cézanne lay next tot the remains of a herring I had cut in two, the head for the first day, the tail for the next, and Thank God, a few crusts of bread.
    • quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, pp. 29-30
Bust of Marc Chagall in Celebrity Alley in Kielce (Poland)
  • It’s only my town (Chagall was born in Vitebsk), mine, which I have rediscovered. I come back to it with emotion. It was at that time that I painted my Vitebsk series of 1914. (Chagall couldn't go back to Paris because of the outbreak of the first World War in 1914) I painted everything that met my eyes. I painted at my window; I never walked down the street without my box of paint.
    • quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 31
  • * But my knowledge of Marxism was limited to knowing that Marx was a Jew, and that he had a long white beard. I said to Lunatcharsky (the political communist commissar for Education, ca. 1918) 'Whatever you do, don’t ask me why I painted in blue or green, and why you can see a calf inside the cow’s belly, etc. On the other hand you’re welcome: if Marx is so wise, let him come back to life and explain it himself'. I showed him my canvases.
    • quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 34

After 1920sEdit

  • ..In spite of everything, there is still no more wonderful vocation than to continue to tolerate events and to work on in the name of our mission, in the name of that spirit which lives on in our teaching and in our vision of humanity and art, the spirit which can lead us Jews down the true and just path. But along the way, peoples will spill our blood, and that of others.
    • In the last lines of his lecture at the Congress of the Jewish Scientific Institute Vilnius, in 1935, as quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 58
  • If a symbol should be discovered in a painting of mine, it was not my intention. It is a result I did not seek. It is something that may be found afterwards, and which can be interpreted according to taste.
    • In Marc Chagall 1887-1985: Painting As Poetry by Ingo F. Walther, Rainer Metzger, p. 78


External linksEdit

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