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Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was born into a poor, strongly believing Jewish family in the Russian town of Vitebsk. As a young man he briefly attended an art school in his home town, and in 1906 he moved to St Petersburg and studied at different art schools there.
In 1910 he received a scholarship that made it possible for him to go to Paris. Through his friendship with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had contacts to the artists that were developing cubism, Chagall became aware of modern French art.
It was during this period that Chagall painted some of his most famous paintings like e.g. ”The Violinist”. These are paintings, which in their form are influenced by cubism’s dissolution of naturalistic space, but paintings which at the same time take their content and narrative from his childhood’s Russian-Jewish folk culture.
In 1914 he returned to Russia. His stay there was planned to last for a few months, but – owing to the outbreak of World War I – it became a stay of eight years, where he witnessed the war and the revolution. For a short while he acted as an art commissioner in Vitebsk, but his views on art did not match the Communist system, and in 1923 he travelled back to Paris and remained there for the rest of his life – only interrupted by a stay in the USA during World War II.
At his first meeting with the art collector and publisher Ambroise Vollard, Chagall was commissioned to illustrate Gogol’s book ”Dead souls”. From 1924-25 Chagall makes the 107 etchings. The etchings depict the Russian way of life that Chagall grew up with.
After the completion of ”Dead souls” Vollard encouraged Chagall to create illustrations to La Fontaine’s fables, and upon their completion Vollard ordered illustrations for the Bible – a text that Chagall was intimately familiar with. In 1931 he went to Egypt, Syria and Palestine to see for himself the countries of the Bible. Later he travelled to Holland to study the pictures of Rembrandts.
The series of Bible illustrations – encompassing altogether 105 etchings – was not finalised until 1956. After that the Bible became one of Chagall’s principal sources of inspiration. Several paintings, glassworks, textiles and lithographs have their source in these illustrations.
When Chagall died at the age of 98 in 1985, he was one of the most acclaimed and beloved artists of the 20th century. His pictures are like fairy-tales – they are sophisticated and poetic portrayals of life and love, full of joie de vivre.
Marc Chagall, 1921. Photographer unknown