Born: Vitebsk [now Viciebsk], Belarus
July 7, 1887
Died: Saint Paul de Vence, Alpes Maritimes, France, March 28, 1985
Russian born, Marc Chagall, was a French painter, draughtsman, printmaker, designer, sculptor, ceramicist and writer. A prolific artist, Chagall distinguished himself as an expressive colourist. His work is characterized by his consistant use of folkloric imagery and vibrant colour. His style, although developed in the years before World War I, underwent little progression throughout his long career. Though he preferred to be known as a Belarussian artist, following his exile from the Soviet Union in 1923 he was recognized as a major figure of the Ecole de Paris, especially in the later 1920s and the 1930s. In his last years he was regarded as a leading artist in stained glass.
Born to a humble Jewish family in the ghetto of a large town in White Russia, Chagall passed a childhood steeped in Hasidic culture. Very early in life he was encouraged by his mother to follow his vocation and she managed to get him into a St Petersburg art school. Returning to Vitebsk, he became engaged to Bella Rosenfeld (whom he married twelve years later), then, in 1910, set off for Paris, 'the Mecca of art'. He was a tenant at La Ruche, where he had Modigliani and Soutine for neighbours. His Slav Expressionism was tinged with the influence of Daumier, Jean-François Millet, the Nabis and the Fauves. He was also influenced by Cubism. Essentially a colourist, Chagall was interested in the Simultaneist vision of Robert Delaunay and the Luminists of the Section d'Or.
Chagall returned to Vitebsk in 1914, where he was caught by the outbreak of the First World War. He married Bella there in 1915. He was appointed provincial Commissar for Fine Art in 1917 and became involved in ambitious projects for a local academy, but he left after two and a half years in order to escape the revolutionary dictates of Malevich. After a stay in Moscow and then in Berlin, where he studied the technique of engraving, he returned to Paris in 1923.
Breton, who admired the 'total lyric explosion' of his pre-war painting, tried to claim him for Surrealism but Chagall only flirted with it briefly during his exile in New York (1941-48). His emblematic irrationality shook off all outside influences while his compositions were based on colour, calling up chimerical processions of memory where reality and the imaginary are woven together into a legendary artist.
Back in France, Chagall discovered ceramics, sculpture and stained glass, for which later in his career, he was well known. He settled in the south of France , first at Vence (1950), then in Saint-Paul-de-Vence (1966). Commissions poured in: for the Assy baptistery in 1957, the cathedrals of Metz (1960) and Rheims (1974), the Hebrew University Medical Centre synagogue in Jerusalem (1960), the Paris Opéra (1963). The Musée Chagall in Nice dedicated to the 'Biblical Message' set the seal on his fame in July 1973. A painter-poet celebrated by Apollinaire and Cendrars, Chagall brought back the forgotten dimension of metaphor into French formalism.