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Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Painting of the Month (70) April 2017: Chagall

Marc Chagall was born in 1887 near Vitebsk, Belarus, at that time a part of the Russian Empire. He occupies two main areas of modern painting;  Picasso described him as the last of the great modern colourists and he is also considered to be the pre-eminent Jewish painter of the twentieth century. He was uneasy with that description because, although Jewish themes dominated much of his work he was very interested in modern painting generally.
I find this picture very romantic. It shows him with the love of his life, his first wife Bella. He made a few versions of this picture and many others where they are floating through the air in a dream-like state. In this painting they are floating above his home town of Vitebsk. Below we can see the houses but we are not looking up at the couple, instead we are at the same height as them and looking directly across. The painting is heavily cubist-influenced – note the way that their clothing is beginning to be depicted as a series of individual shapes. Chagall went to Paris at a time when Cubism was the major movement in painting although he returned home to paint this just before the Russian revolution.
Portrait of Chagall by his first art teacher
who, it seems, could not paint hands.
There is a suggestion of the Earth’s curvature which accents their height. The symbolism indicates that the couple felt “lighter than air” because of the love they felt for each other. They seem to almost be swimming (I don’t care about splitting infinitives!), in a kind of back-stroke but they are floating as well. So, active and passive at the same time!
Although this is an oil painting on canvas, the houses have the look of a Japanese watercolour and I love the way one of the houses is painted entirely in red. Incidentally, this picture was once considered to be almost pornographic because she is showing some bare wrist!
I don’t want to over-analyze here because I feel that the beauty of the work speaks for itself. Chagall died as recently as 1985 at the age of ninety-seven.
 I'm listening to to the wonderful Joan Baez singing the achingly sad 
Jesse a beautiful song written by Janice Ian. Listen here.


Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

They had a showing of Chagall six or so years ago at The Philadelphia Museus of Art that I enjoyed very much. I appreciate your take on this picture as you see so much more and explain it so well in your posts.

Janis Ian - sad, sad, sad, but wonderful; Joan Baez, magnificent!

Hels said...

Goodness, I have know that Chagall saw a lot of cubists in France but did he have adopt pure cubist elements himself? You are quite right - the clothing in Over The Town 1918 was definitely beginning to be depicted as a series of individual shapes. So I had a look at The Promenade 1917 and Music, 1920 where not only the clothing had a cubist feel. Here the cliffs and houses were clearly cubist.

I suppose he was so many years back in Russia (1914-22) that his taste changed later on.

Thanks for the link

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, It is interesting to observe the differences in the two floating figures. She seems to be floating more easily, and seems very relaxed. On the other hand, he is not floating so gracefully, as if he is just getting the hang of it--note that his hanging leg still seems to be struggling, or is the only part affected by gravity, indicating either that he is a tyro or is resisting the floating. Perhaps his wife has floated away, and he is trying to rescue her. Ironically, his foot is pointing at the house which has a ladder leading to the loft, obviously a very limited method of climbing (or perhaps what gave them the boost!).

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - interesting to read your comments on Chagall and these two art works - he's someone I know of ... but know little about. He's done a few stained glass windows around the south - Chichester Cathedral and in Kent somewhere ... thanks for this and the commenters comments - always useful to have another viewpoint ... cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Arleen: I have seen a Chagall exhibition in London. He seems to attract a lot of people who don't generally bother about Art, which is good thing! I agree with your comments about the music - obviously!

bazza said...

Hels: He's certainly not what we usually think of as a Cubist but he was certainly influenced by the movement - as he was with Fauvism and Symbolism. I suppose you could call it early Magic Realism! I loved your post about Chagall; you put in a lot more effort than I do but then I have an attention span of about one nanometer!

bazza said...

Jim: Thanks for your further insight into this picture. You have added some real value with your observations. I wanted to say much more but, as you can see in my reply to Hels, I quickly get bored with myself! Thanks for visiting again.

bazza said...

Hilary: Yes he made quite a few stained glass windows in Churches as well as in Synagogues. He was not not strongly religious or political. In fact he turned down a top job after the Russian Revolution because of his non-political outlook. I usually learn a lot from other commenters!

JoJo said...

I had no idea Chagall died in 1985. I also thought he was one of the impressionists but he clearly came after that. Wow!

bazza said...

Hi Jojo. Thanks for dropping in. Marc Chagall must have been influenced by the post-impressionists as he was in Paris very early in the last century. I too was surprised that he died that late!

Deborah Weber said...

What a lovely painting, and I greatly appreciate your commentary. There are a number of his works in the Art Institute in Chicago where I live, and it's always a delight visiting them.

Flying dreams are always my favorite, and this work of Chagall's has added a lovely new dimension to that for me.

bazza said...

Thanks Deborah for those kind words! My wife and I both really enjoy Chagall's paintings.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I was in London yesterday and saw the Russian exhibition at the RA - and thought Chagall's "The Promenade" was the work you had here ... and I see it's completely different - yet I immediately tagged it to your post - my memory and visual remembrance obviously isn't that good!!

Kustodiev featured ... a painting similar to the one I featured in Shrovetide - but again ... not 'quite' the same ... but I recognised the artist as I'd written about him.

Cheers and yes I'm up to my eyes in it - having had two full days mostly out of the A-Z ..

see you around - Hilary

bazza said...

Hello again! Thanks for the update. Chagall paints a lot of pictures that are similar in style and content to this one. I hope you enjoyed that exhibition; I am hoping to see it myself.

The Unknown Journey Ahead said...

As non-knowledgeable as I am about art, I did not know Chagall was from Belarus. My grandfather was from Belarus, also (Pinsk). It was a nice opportunity for me to Google the distance between Chagall's home and my grandfather's. I have a lot to learn.