Chagall (Segal), Marc

(1887–1985)
   Russian-French painter. Chagall was born in Vitebsk, in the Russian Pale of Settlement. For a Jew living within the Pale, to take up painting was an act of defiance against the traditional Jewish abhorrence of the ‘graven image’. But his work is permeated with the simple, religious atmosphere of his home.
   After four years as an art student in St Petersburg, Chagall came in 1910 to Paris, where he saw much, but basically retained his own style. On a visit to Russia in 1914, Chagall was caught up in the war and given a desk job in a government office for the duration. After the Revolution of 1917, he was appointed commissar of art for Vitebsk Province. In 1919 he helped found Moscow’s Yiddish State Theatre and produced his famous murals for the plays of Gogol, Chekhov and SHALOM ALEICHEM.
   Discouraged by the new regime’s insistence on an art of ‘socialist realism’, he left Russia again in 1922 for Paris. There he became identified with a group of noted Jewish painters which came to be known as the School of Paris. It included such artists as MODIGLIANI, PASCIN and SOUTINE. The art dealer Ambrose Vollard commissioned him to produce etchings for editions of Gogol’s Dead Souls, La Fontaine’s Fables and the Bible. In 1937, he had the dubious honour of being included in the Nazi ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition held in Munich. With the German occupation of France, Chagall fled to the United States where he remained until 1948. After World War II his commissions included the stained- glass windows for the Roman Catholic cathedral at Metz, the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem and the United Nations Secretariat building in New York; the ceiling of the Paris Opera; murals for the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, New York; and a mural, tapestries and floor mosaics for the Knesset building in Jerusalem. In 1973 he returned to Moscow for the first time to attend an exhibition of his work. Also a Chagall museum was opened in the South of France.
   Chagall’s work is distinguished by richly coloured and dream-like fantasies, using images from the scenes of his childhood or from the Bible, often floating in the air or upside down in whimsical defiance of logic. Although he drew on his early experiences, he also employed Christian motifs such as the cross and crucifixion and most of his stained glass was commissioned for churches. He himself was not a practising Jew in the latter part of his life and his subject matter became increasingly universalist. Nonetheless he is widely regarded as the greatest Jewish painter of modern times.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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