The Comité Chagall has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The theme of nostalgia and memory is a central and powerful force throughout much of Marc Chagall’s art, and his work overflows with references to his Russian heritage. My Parents was executed in 1912, two years after Chagall had arrived in Paris for the first time. A double portrait of the artist’s parents, this gouache demonstrates not only Chagall’s enduring connection to his Russian roots, but also the boldly expressive artistic style that Chagall had developed after his immersion into the Parisian art world. With bursts of bright colour and ornate and delicate patterning, My Parents is a fascinating fusion of artistic styles, a delightful expression of Chagall’s unique vision.
In My Parents, Chagall’s father is depicted in a half-length portrait, his face staring directly out of the picture, while behind him, stands the artist’s mother. Chagall has imbued these figures with a distinctly Russian style. Conveyed in full-length with her back to the viewer, Chagall’s mother is attired in traditional Russian dress. She appears more as a dreamlike memory, an image of a typical Russian woman, rather than an exact pictorial resemblance of the artist’s mother. In contrast, Chagall has depicted his father with stylised angular facial features, characteristic of folkloric Russian imagery.
Chagall arrived in Paris from Russia in the summer of 1910. Overwhelmed by the bustling metropolis which was a vision of movement, colour, bright lights and people, he absorbed every aspect of the buzzing French capital. His enchantment with this new city was however impinged with a longing for his hometown. He recalled, ‘Only the great distance that separated Paris from my native town prevented me from returning to it immediately or at least after a week, or a month’ (Chagall, quoted in F. Meyer, Marc Chagall, New York, 1963, p. 95). As a result of these feelings of dislocation and longing, the artist created a number of images of his family, as well as imbuing his paintings with references to Vitebsk, a tribute to his origin and identity.
Yet, while the artist remained forever tied to his homeland, Paris offered a wealth of artistic inspiration and innovation: ‘My art needs Paris just as a tree needs water,’ Chagall wrote (Chagall, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall 1887-1985, Cologne, 1998, p. 32). The strikingly direct expressiveness of colour in My Parents is reminiscent of the innovative use of colour pioneered in 1905 by the Fauves. Chagall’s father’s face burns with a vivid presence, which the artist has rendered using tones of green contrasted with bold white. The beard and eyebrows are depicted with brushstrokes of intense yellow and orange, and his lips, with a splash of purple. The combination of Chagall’s Russian folkloric artistic tradition and the style of the French avant-garde would remain central to Chagall’s work throughout his career. ‘I brought my objects from Russia…Paris shed its light on them’ (Chagall, quoted in ibid., p. 100).