Marc Chagall

Chagall, Marc (märk shəgälˈ) [key], 1887–1985, Russian painter. In 1907, Chagall left his native Vitebsk for St. Petersburg, where he studied under L. N. Bakst. In Paris (1910) he began to assimilate cubist characteristics into his expressionistic style in such paintings as Half-Past Three (The Poet) (1911; Philadelphia Mus. of Art). Encouraged by Bolshevik proclamations forbidding anti-Semitism and making Jews citizens, Chagall returned to Russia where he founded and became head of Vitebsk's People's Art College. There he quarreled over curriculum with Constructivists, and when Russia's persecution of Jews began again, he returned (1923) to France, where he spent most of his life (he also lived in New York).

Much of Chagall's work is rendered with an extraordinary formal inventiveness and a deceptive fairy-tale naïveté, and he is considered a forerunner of surrealism. His frequently repeated subject matter was drawn from Russian Jewish life and folklore; he was particularly fond of flower and animal symbols. His major early works included murals for the Jewish State Theater (now in the Tretyakov Mus., Moscow). Among his other well-known works are I and the Village (1911; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City) and The Rabbi of Vitebsk (Art Inst., Chicago). Chagall's twelve stained-glass windows, symbolizing the tribes of Israel, were exhibited in Paris and New York City before being installed (1962) in the Hadassah-Hebrew Univ. Medical Center synagogue in Jerusalem. His two vast murals for New York's Metropolitan Opera House, treating symbolically the sources and the triumph of music, were installed in 1966.

Chagall also designed the sets and costumes for Stravinsky's ballet Firebird (1945), and illustrated numerous books, including Gogol's Dead Souls, La Fontaine's Fables, and Illustrations for the Bible (1956). A museum of his work opened in Nice in 1973. His name is also spelled Shagall.

See his autobiography (1931, tr. 1989); biographies by J.-P. Crespelle (1970), S. Alexander (1978), H. Keller (1979), and J. Wullschlager (2008); studies by F. Meyer (tr. 1964), J. J. Sweeney (1946, repr. 1970), W. Haftmann (1974), and J. Wilson (2007).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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