Marc (Moishe Shagal) Chagall was one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. He created unique works in many artistic medium, including painting, book illustrations, stained glass, ceramic, tapestries and fine art prints. He was born in 1887 to a poor Jewish family in Russia. From 1908 to 1910, he studied art at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and John James Audubon Painting, during which time his unique style began to emerge. His paintings focused on images from his childhood and would guide his artistic endeavors for the rest of his life.
In 1910, Marc Chagall moved to Paris. It was during this period that he painted the Jewish village, and began to developed artistic elements that he became so known for in art history. In Paris he enrolled at the art academy, La Palette. There he learned the technique of gouache, which he used to paint Russian scenes.
In 1914, before World War I, Marc Chagall held a one-man show in Berlin, exhibiting work dominated by Jewish images. He moved back to Russia during the war, and in 1917, endorsing the revolution. He was appointed Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk. This resulted in his founding the Vitebsk Arts College which, became the most distinguished school of art in the Soviet Union. In 1922, Chagall once again left Russia, and eventually moved back to France. Chagall’s work was receiving acclaim and he was awarded the Carnegie Prize in 1939. When World War II broke out, he was able to flee France with the help of Alfred Barr of the New York Museum of Modern Art, along with other prominent artists, whose lives were at risk. He left France for America in May 1941.
After the war, Marc Chagall traveled extensively, working in Brittany in 1924, in southern France in 1926, in Palestine in 1931 (as preparation for the Bible etchings), and, between 1932 and 1937, in Holland, Spain, Poland, and Italy. In 1931 his autobiography, My Life, was published. His reputation as a modern master was confirmed by a large retrospective exhibition in 1933 at the Kunsthalle in Basel, Switzerland. By 1946 his artwork was becoming more widely recognized. The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a large exhibition with 40 years of his work which gave visitors one of the first complete impressions of the changing nature of his art over the years.
In the years ahead he was able to produce not just paintings and graphic art, but also numerous sculptures and ceramics, including wall tiles, painted vases, plates and jugs. Marc Chagall also began working in larger-scale formats, producing large murals, stained glass windows, mosaics and tapestries.
Art historians Ingo Walther and Rainer Metzger try to summarize Chagall’s contribution to art:
“His life and art together added up to this image of a lonesome visionary, a citizen of the world with much of the child still in him, a stranger lost in wonder — an image which the artist did everything to cultivate. Profoundly religious and with a deep love of the homeland, his work is arguably the most urgent appeal for tolerance and respect of all that is different that modern times could make.”
Marc Chagall received many prizes and important recognition for his artist contributions. He was also one of very few artists to exhibit work at the Louvre in their lifetime.
My Life – Autobiography