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Marc Chagall Essay, Research Paper

Marc Chagall as an artist and as a person cannot be categorized. He was born in Vitebsk, Russia, learned to paint in St. Petersburg and lived in Paris, Berlin, and the United States. His career is influenced by many different factors. His Hasidic Jewish upbringing reflected in the content of his paintings greatly. The lyrical fairy tales of Jewish mysticism, the stories of the Bible, and the Rabbis and scholars who surrounded him in his childhood come out onto his work. When he went to art school in St. Petersburg it was the period when he became exposed to the avant-garde movement in art. With Leon Bakst he saw the reproductions of Fauve canvases, the sketches of Van Gogh and of Cezzanne his ambition to go to Paris was born. At the time that he moves to Paris for the first time (1910- 1914) Fauvism and Cubism were the prevailing modern art movements. It can be seen in Chagall’s composition the application of these movements principles of arbitrary colour and reorganization o!

f the visual field, but he incorporates these principles with a dream like scape to create his own personal style.

The term Surrealism applies to Chagall, that is the term that was coined when Appolinaire when visiting his studio in 1913 murmured “Supernatural!”. This is not to say that Chagall was part of any Surrealist movement on the contrary he is against any style or movement. It used as a term where the artist has drawn upon consciously or unconsciously from the dream experience. It is clear in his works that he does not want any movement to restrict his expression and mobility. He is wholly against empathetic realism, of the Courbet, Impressionist or Cubist sort, yet he still uses Cubist devices and comes close to Impressionism. Chagall depicts a more dreamlike, story like content filled with symbolism (much of it traditional) in his paintings. He admired Manet, and drew great inspiration from Gauguin in his early years. He creates a style that was more universalistic and one that did not have any idealistic underpinnings.

Chagall’s painting The Fiddler (1912) is the largest and richest work in the series of figure pictures in which Chagall was bringing to life the typical characters he remembered from his childhood. In this composition the use of arbitrary colour is clearly seen, for example the fiddler’s green face, the blue roof top etc. He does not use a pseudo -Cubist composition. He uses more of a subtle correlation of the planes. One may wonder why it has an underlying geometric structure. Chagall in order to continue painting used a patterned tablecloth instead of a canvas. He did not disguise this surface but retained elements of it in his composition. You can see the pattern over the fiddler’s shoulder and on his leg. He has the fiddler floating in mid-air with the town below him above and beside him. The different buildings in the town are arranged in geometric shapes and lines. The most important thing as in all Chagall compositions is the symbolism. The fiddler symbolizes severa!

l things at once, a memory from Chagall’s childhood, from his homeland and on a personal level himself. His childhood memory was that of his uncle Neuch who didn’t play the violin very well but who was enthusiastic when he played it. Its wider Russian significance is that of the failed revolution of 1905. The leader of this revolution was a Jewish fiddler named Edouard Sormus, who led workers through the streets to fight for their rights. Chagall saw himself in the fiddler, a solitary individual, isolated by the strangeness and mystery of art. The whole build-up of the painting reinforces the poetical dimension of the picture. This painting was important to Chagall. He used the symbol of the fiddler in other composition, for example The Violinist (1911), and The Green Violinist (1923-24).

Another major work of his, the painting I and the Village (1911-1914) suggests the complexities of opposition and unity, the confrontation between man and beast. He has blended his nostalgia for his homeland very well with the adopted style of Cubism. The whole composition is full of symbolism and of subtleties. On first look we see man facing a cow. In the cow’s face with see a woman milking a cow. In the background there are two figures, one is holding a scythe and the other is turned upside down. This appears as an image of time or death. One of the subtleties one may not see a first glance is the fine line between the man’s eye and the cow’s eye. Also the man is offering some flowers to the cow as if he is courting the beast. The artist mixes together these elements because he is striving to unite the bestial and the rational, the spontaneous and the studied, man and beast. His unusual use of Cubism may be due to its strong influence in Paris or maybe he saw it had !

a significant contribution to make to his composition. This composition is an excellent example of Chagall’s use of symbolism and his ability to arrange them in a certain fashion as to derive meaning and significance.

A very good example of Chagall’s ability to put together different styles is the painting To Russia, Asses, and Others (1911 -1912). At the time this painting stuck out like a sore thumb in French art society. With its bright colours, set against dark colours. Chagall does not apply any rule of logic, gravity, probability, and reality to this composition. His hometown Vitebsk is seen through a Cubist vision. The scene is set against a night sky pierced with flashes of bright colour. Descending from the sky like a messenger from God a headless milkmaid floats above the roofs of the Russian town.. On one of those roofs, a red cow suckles a monkey and a lamb. The cow is very impressive compared to the town and is symbolic of its role as provider of sustenance to man. The impossibility of a woman losing her head and continuing to function bothers many people. Once again Chagall uses the head as symbol of his escape back to his youth. In this composition it is seen that Chagall ha!

s learned some lessons of Cubism. He maintains representational forms but he describes these forms through blocks of sharp, geometric colour. Chagall did not adhere strictly to the rule Cubism but developed his own. In this composition he has synthesized very intelligently his own style, his homeland, the influences of his youth with the modern artistic trends of the day. He is able to bring dreams, symbolism, Cubism and Fauvism together and create something entirely original and universal.

All three of these paintings bring up many questions on Chagall’s style. From the book Chagall’s World conversations with Andre Verdet we can get an interesting insight into Chagall’s style. When asked if Fauvism or Cubism ever tempted him Chagall replied that he tended to see a formal side to Cubism. He tended to see his pictures as illogical and non-realist. The images were not of this earth therefore different from things or geometrical figures. Also the way he uses colour is like no one else. In the conversations Chagall makes many references to poetry, but that is not surprising for to him his art is poetry. His concern was never with a movement but with the purpose of bringing to people the love and gaiety of his paintings. Chagall is known to use much more than a canvas as a showcase for his work. He is world famous for stained glass and mosaics from Jerusalem to the United Nations. For him a stained glass “is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of !

the world.” In his paintings we see his childhood and homeland and for Marc Chagall his paintings are his memory.

Chagall left a lasting impression on the art world. He evoked things in his paintings that were close to him and put them together in a poetic sense. He offered a dreamlike scene and influenced the Neo- Surrealists . Chagall being part of the first two phases of Surrealism (1911-1914) (1914-1918) laid a fundamental base for artist like Salvador Dali who would also rely heavily on their dreams and their images.

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