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Born in 1887 in Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire, to a Jewish family (Shagal being the family name) Chagall is celebrated as the world’s most preeminent Jewish artist and for his imaginative use of colour and dream-like, folklore inspired imagery
His career began in 1906 when he studied art in Saint Petersburg, but soon relocated to Paris in 1910, where Cubism was the new dominant trend. Despite being unable to speak French, Chagall struck up friendships with such avant-garde luminaries as Fernand Leger. Paris became a huge inspiration on Chagall’s work - and is represented throughout his career. Mixing Parisian scenes of such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower juxtaposed alongside motifs of his Russian homeland, its folk culture, Jewish iconography, animals and people, meant his work would later become an inspiration for the Surrealist movement.
Chagall’s first major exhibition was in Berlin, and proclaimed a huge success. With this, Chagall moved back to Russia and began to exhibit his work in Moscow, which launched his career as one of Russia’s most eminent artists and a rising star of the Modernist art movement. However, after the October Revolution of 1917 and the end of WW1 - the wealthy art collectors who had previously purchased Chagall’s work and lavish theatre sets Chagall was designing were no longer a priority as famine set in. The Chagall family were forced to relocate to Paris. He tried to recover his early works from his first exhibition in Berlin along the way, but found them all lost after the War. After working with the French art dealer, Ambroise Vollard, by 1927, Chagall had finally arrived in the French art world.
Vollard commissioned Chagall to illustrate the Old Testament, and to fully immerse himself in the project, Chagall travelled to the Holy Land, where he felt an immediate connection with his Jewish heritage. The Bible illustrations are considered some of the greatest of Chagall’s career and were finally published in 1956 as lithographic prints. “I did not see the Bible, I dreamed it. Ever since early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible. It has always seemed to me and still seems today the greatest source of poetry of all time”
Chagall’s art was immediately a target from the Nazi campaigns against modern art. Rebelling against all that could be suggested to be cubist, surrealist or abstract, the Nazi’s sought to establish realism and Chagall’s work was an extra affront to the new regime, describing it as “green, purple, and red Jews shooting out of the earth, fiddling on violins”. During occupied France, the Chagall family remained seemingly unaware that French Jews were being sent to concentration camps. Involved so intensely with his art, it was not until 1940 that Chagall realised his family had to flee. Unable to travel anywhere but the USA, but unable to afford the expensive passage and paperwork, he was saved by an American initiative to smuggle important artists by forging paperwork. Chagall and his family travelled to New York clutching parcels of his paintings and he found himself bestowed with a celebrity status, after Matisse’s son became Chagall’s representative. Chagall’s work in America became more concerned with the Holocaust and Jewish heritage, but by the end of WW2 had become internationally recognised with the Museum of Modern Art in New York holding a full retrospective. Chagall finally moved back to Paris in 1947 and furthered the mediums he worked in, producing sculpture, fine lithographs, ceramics and the ceiling for the Paris Opera.
Chagall leaves a legacy of being acclaimed by Picasso as one of the few artists who truly understood colour and connected European bohemianism and circus folk with the highest spiritual figures and stories. The Art Hound Gallery is proud to exhibit original lithographs produced by Chagall and Mourlot, Paris.