The Fondation LeClerq stages a major exhibition in Landerneau each year. Last year there was a fabulous exhibition of Giacometti drawings, sculptures, and statues, and this year I was bowled over by the exhibition of Chagall paintings, drawings, and illustrations. By chance I had taken his biography on holiday – do read this book if you have a chance and enjoy Chagall. I saw the major exhibition of his work in London’s Royal Academy in 1985 and I have loved his paintings ever since.
Marc Chagall (Moishe Shakal amongst other versions of his name) was born near Vitebsk in 1887 in what was known as the ‘Pale of Settlement’ in the west of Russia, the only area in which Jews were allowed permanent residency. The exhibition has work from all periods in his life, starting with the early, formative years in Paris. During WWI he returned to Russia and married Bella, his first wife.
Chagall, Bella, and their daughter Ida moved to Paris in 1923 after the Russian Revolution and never returned to Russia. However, for the rest of his life he continued to paint his origins. Vitebsk, the setting for The Blue House (above), appears often, and the circus theme recurs in various forms, recalling the travelling players from his early years in Vitebsk. It was quite wonderful to be able to stand in front of these glorious paintings, glowing with colour.
I had forgotten about Chagall’s strong interest in theatre, writing, poetry and the work he did in illustrating books and texts. In 1923 he was commissioned by Vollard to illustrate Gogol’s Les Âmes Mortes, but the book was not published until 1947.
In 1925 he was commissioned to illustrate La Fontaine’s Fables.
In 1931 Vollard invited Chagall to illustrate the Old Testament of the Bible but a book with etchings was only published in 1956.
In 1941 Chagall, Bella, and daughter Ida left France for America, where Bella died suddenly in 1944. Chagall returned to France after WWII, in 1947, settling in Provence where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1948 Chagall’s illustrations for 1001 Nights was published.
And at the end of his life…
Marc Chagall’s work