Expressionism, Fauvism, & Early 20th Century.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985).
“Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.“
Marc Chagall had first hand experience of the simple life growing up in a small provincial city in Russia with his traditional Jewish family and leaving for France before the First World War. He incorporated his childhood memories of village scenes in Russia with modern experiments even after moving to Paris and created modern works of expressionism and cubism. In 1910, he went to study art in Paris and was influenced by the poets and painters and developed his own emotional and poetic form of art. He claimed that his “homeland exists only in my soul” and incorporated Jewish themes and life in Russia into his abstract Parisian scenes.
“I and the Village”, one of Chagall’s early works, depicts cubism and fauvism through the use of strong colour and inaccurate representation of colour or size. He overlaps whimsical images in a cubist method which creates a soft and playful depiction of the Russian countryside which he grew up on. Through abstraction he integrates Eastern European folklore and Yiddish culture through the story of a cow dreaming of a milk maid and a man and woman working in the fields.
Chagall’s first wife, Bella, is depicted in the image above, which stands out as a sort of love letter to his wife. She is shown standing above a vibrant landscape with a much smaller Chagall and their young daughter, Ida, at the very bottom. The expressive composition is similar to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary which could further express Chagall’s complete love and adoration for his wife Bella.
Chagall’s connection to his childhood roots in the Russian countryside and his devotion to his Jewish heritage is shown in “Green Violinist” which was completed in Paris after his return from his homeland. The green violinist, believed to be prophet Elijah due to Chagall’s continuous references to the Hebrew Bible, is shown to be the support of this community by extending him from the rooftops and depicting him in communion with God through his rhythmic stance and violin. Geometric shapes stemming from the rooftops connect to the violinist’s pants and clothing.
In his last 30 years, Chagall mastered the art of stained glass and even designed windows for the Cathedral of Metz in France and the synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. He worked in set and costume design for the Paris Opera and the New York Metropolitan Opera. His abstract, expressive and cubist art was extremely personal which I admire. His work is layered with stories and personal meaning, whether from the Bible, his childhood, or his love for his wife. His nostalgic pieces, especially ones regarding his homeland, feel melancholic and bittersweet to me since he was evidently happy in France but was still devoted to Russia and his Jewish heritage. The pieces of his wife really captivate me because I sense his immense love for his wife, Bella; the unfortunate early passing of Bella makes Chagall’s work very bittersweet to me and although his work is generally whimsical, the pieces he created after her death are an ode to her existence. Personally, I admire the symbolism and story he is telling more than the physical art itself, but I do admire how his style beautifully compliments his outlook on life.
Gombrich, E.H.. The Story of Art. New York: Phaidon Press Inc, 1995.