Marc Chagall: Art Innovation and Jewish Tradition

Katherine20th Century Art, Artist Spotlight, Contemporary / Modern Art, European PaintingsLeave a Comment

Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall was an artist living in a time of transition. Born in 1887 in the Russian village Vitebsk to a poor Jewish family, he witnessed the world change drastically during both world wars.  He left his village to study art in Saint Petersburg before moving to Paris in 1910. While in Paris, he was introduced to a variety of artistic movements and met modern painters like Robert Delaunay.

Even in the city, he could not leave the small village behind. Some of his most iconic works depict rural life with a fanciful and wistful twist. Marc Chagall took joy from using vibrant colors in these pastoral scenes. Most of his career consists of colorful scenes that are combined with whimsy and nostalgia for the village life he experienced in his youth. They are visceral and highly personal representations. It is easy for the viewer to be caught up in the fondness that Chagall had for his home.

When war broke out in Europe, Chagall moved back to Russia and supported the revolution. However, after the Bolshevik Revolution, he was deemed too modern and forced back to France.

Chagall | Vase de Fleurs a L’ananas | Ackerman's Fine ArtHe did not find peace in Paris. Outraged by Nazism, he began to paint Jewish martyrs and refugees to express his anger. One example is White Crucifixion where it depicts Jesus on the cross and covered with a tallith, a shawl that Jewish men wear during prayer. In the background are men and women fleeing from soldiers and a burning synagogue.

His Jewish heritage is reflected in many other paintings before and after the Holocaust. His work is sometimes seen as a way to balance his ideas of art and his traditional Jewish upbringing. Other religious symbols, like that of the cross in White Crucifixion, were often used to reinforce a narrative or allegory in his paintings.

The Holocaust forced many Europeans of all walks of life to seek refuge elsewhere. The director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Alfred H. Barr Jr, added the names of Chagall and his wife Bella to the list of European artists who were in danger and needed asylum in the US. They shortly moved to New York.

New York never became home for Marc Chagall and, after the end of World War II and the tragic death of his wife, he began to move around once more.

Many have tried to define Chagall’s overall artistic style, but he never fell neatly in any category. He was interested in impressionism, cubism, Fauvism, and surrealism and would combine many different styles as they pleased him.  By not adhering to any particular school or movement, Chagall maintained an inventive and protean style.

Chagall’s impressive 75 year career produced 10,000 works of art in a number of mediums including stained glass, mosaics, and more. One of the greatest achievements of his later career was when he was commissioned for a mural on the ceiling of the Paris Opera House in 1966. Fiercely independent and private, he preferred not to be defined. Even up to his death in 1985, he remained driven and free.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.

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