Marc Chagall

Culturally-politically transnational, artistically dynamic in the extreme, and notably long-lived, Marc Zakharovich Chagall (1887-1985) is one of the modernist movement’s most iconic and essential of figures. A life so enduring as to have effectively bridged disparate eras with his near 10 decades, Marc Chagall would live through innumerable geopolitical changes and events, including both World Wars, many of which manifested as influences within his collective body of work. Eventually becoming, by choice, a French citizen, Chagall’s work would intertwine the competing and complementary aspects of his complex personal story, ultimately rendering his style something of a testament to the sheer breadth and wonder of human experience.

Born to Jewish parentage in the penultimate decade of 19th century Belarus, Marc Chagall was raised in a large, working-class family and would receive thorough education in studies both linguistic (Hebrew) and Biblical. Valuable though this intellectual foundation would prove throughout his many years, it was a fated encounter with the fine art of illustration that would guide the still very young Marc Chagall towards an artistic career in which his talents would long flourish.

The initial transition from conventional education to one focused solely upon fine art was, as is so often the case, somewhat sudden and even unexpected. But Chagall’s creative instincts and quick development of fundamental skills rendered the sensibility of the transition manifestly apparent, even to parents who, though supportive, were understandably struck by their son’s immediate passion for artistic expression.

Though largely self-taught, at least initially, the young Russian would eventually come under the close instruction of painter and teacher Yuri Pen. The experience and formal lessons contributed notably to Chagall’s creative arsenal, though he seemed to quickly outgrow the narrow limitations tacitly imposed within Pen’s singularly-focused school. It wasn’t long before Chagall would begin to cultivate the signature aesthetic style with which he would subsequently and immortally be associated. This was essentially a lifelong embrace of modernist technique and style suffused with a signature trancelike quality, suggesting an artist somewhat distanced from the terrestrial yet eminently suited for the capturing of its most essential elements.

After his time spent under Pen’s tutelage came to an end, Chagall moved east to St. Petersburg, capital of Russia (at the time) and, by imperial extension, of the young artist’s native Belarus. This chapter of his life also saw the budding artist enjoy a formative four-year stint in Paris. Some years after Chagall’s having come of age, around the time his first period of French residency was coming to an end, tensions on the European geopolitical scene (long simmering) boiled over into a stew of militaristic chaos.

Battle lines were drawn and Chagall would find himself forced to take administrative work in St. Petersburg in order to keep himself from the front lines. He had also accumulated the very real responsibility of a family while in Russia; thus, re-locating to Western Europe (back to France, specifically) was quite out of the question. But, the war years contributed in their own way to Chagall’s relentlessly developing talent, and their conclusion would signal increased public awareness of the broadly multi-national artist. Hs career was then ascendant.

Marc Chagall Artwork

What must be said of Chagall’s place in 20th art history is the profound extent of his creative capacity. Universally celebrated as a painter of extraordinary skill and vision, the restless soul of Chagall could simply not shackled to the confines of a single form of artistic expression. Of course, Chagall’s name will forever be associated with the visual brilliance and poetry of paintings such as I and the Village (1911), prints of which remain popular over a century after the work’s creation.

However, Marc Chagall would later nurture an interest in (and capacity for) such diverse artistic projects as set designing, tapestry creation, and, perhaps notably, for stained glass productions. The last of these speaks most forcefully to the sheer genius which existed with the man’s mind, as Chagall’s stained glass works enrich various types of architecture on either side of the Atlantic to this day.

Marc Chagall’s life, though remarkably long, was ultimately limited by the very same mortality which accompanies us all. But his death in 1985 at the age of 97 would do very little to diminish the eternal appeal and marvelousness of his breathtaking artistic legacy. Both in terms of reputation and the works left in his wide wake, Chagall’s light is certain to flicker through the centuries and millennia to come.