Marc Chagall’s unique approach to painting has earned him a place as one of the most recognisable artists of the 20th century. Best known for his lyrical, fantastical compositions featuring a recurring cast of characters — from lovers to circus performers, violinists to cockerels and goats — Chagall produced a vast number of artworks over his long career. He expressed his creativity across a variety of media, including paintings, prints, ceramics, mosaics and stained-glass windows, and his work is featured in the collections of numerous important international museums.
Born in July 1887, Chagall grew up in the busy town of Vitebsk in modern-day Belarus. He showed an early talent for drawing and began to study with the local artist Yehuda Pen, and later attended the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts in St Petersburg. His artistic breakthrough came in late 1910, when he travelled to Paris for the first time. This trip, which lasted four years, had a powerful impact on both his style and imagination. Here, he encountered French avant-garde art such as Cubism and Fauvism for the first time, and developed a circle of radical artist friends while living in the infamous complex of studios known as La Ruche.
Chagall returned to Vitebsk in 1914 and remained there for the duration of the First World War. During this time he married his long-term love and great muse, Bella, and the couple had a daughter, Ida. Following the Russian Revolution, he was appointed Commissar for Art in Vitebsk, with additional responsibility for theatre in the region. In this role, Chagall founded a museum and art school and worked on stage designs, but disagreements with the Suprematist Kazimir Malevich forced the artist to resign his post in 1920.
He returned to Europe in 1922, settling in Paris with his family. During this period Chagall revisited a number of important subjects and compositions from his early career, which had been lost during the War. Ambroise Vollard commissioned him to create book illustrations for Gogol’s Dead Souls, and La Fontaine’s Fables, and his journeys through the French landscape provided an important stimulus for his work. Though he was invited to join the Surrealists, Chagall refused to align himself with the group, and instead maintained his independence.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Chagall sought asylum in New York. During his time in America, the artist continued to paint and worked on several projects for the theatre. However, Bella’s sudden and unexpected death in 1944 left him devastated and unable to work for several months. He returned to France in 1948, and in 1952 married his second wife Valentina, also known as Vava. The couple settled in Saint-Paul-de-Vence near Nice, and Chagall continued to boldly explore new avenues in his art, inspired by the light and landscape of the South of France.
Chagall’s international reputation was confirmed by major retrospectives of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1946, followed by exhibitions in Paris in 1947, 1959 and 1969–70. He took on a number of high-profile public commissions during the later years of his career, most notably painting the ceiling of the Opéra Garnier in Paris, as well as designing several stained-glass windows for both religious and secular spaces. He was awarded the prestigious Légion d’Honneur in 1977, and continued to work up until his death in March 1985.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Bouquet blanc aux nuages ou L'âne lisant ou Le livre et l'âne ou Musicien aux fleurs et aux fruits