Marc Chagall was born into a Hassidic family that spent his youth in Vitebsk, Belorussia. He studied in St. Petersburg with Leon Bakst and Nicholas Roerich, before moving to Paris in 1910 to continue his art training. He received some attention for the paintings he exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1912, 1913 and 1914. Chagall returned to his homeland following the start of World War I. As a Jewish artist who had received much of his training in Paris, Chagall found that his work differed from that being produced by the Russian modernists. Kazimir Malevich called Chagall's work ‘old-fashioned’ because of his refusal to give up representational subject matter in his paintings. In 1918 Chagall accepted the position of director of the Vitebsk School of Art, but soon afterward Malevich took over the school in order to lead its students toward his vision of the ‘new art.’ Chagall left for Moscow to begin working as a scenic designer for the State Jewish Theater, where he remained for several years.
In 1923 Chagall returned to Paris and from that time on he resided primarily in France. Throughout his life Chagall's work showed the influence of his Russian origins and his Jewish heritage, and although he was well acquainted with the modern art movements of the 20th century, he developed a unique and distinctive style. He produced not only paintings, but also sculptures, set and costume designs, stained glass, tapestries, murals, and mosaics.
Chagall left Nazi-occupied France in 1941 for the United States and remained there until 1948. While living in New York, he made his first color lithographs, a series of 13 prints titled Four Tales from The Arabian Nights. Despite the fact that Chagall had not worked in this medium before, the series was awarded the graphic prize of the Venice Biennial in 1948, and the prints are now regarded as the finest examples in this medium produced in the United States prior to 1950.
In his work, Marc Chagall stressed his Jewish heritage, combining a repeated use of Yiddish idioms, imagery from Jewish folklore, and Hassidic mysticism with the representational style he developed as a prominent member of the early-twentieth-century abstract Russian school. Chagall heightened the dreamlike quality of his work with the motif of weightless bodies floating through space. Through this approach, he combined earthly sentiment with spiritual love, depicting relationships as more romantic than erotic.
(Samples of the Chagall lithographs featured in this exhibit are not available online due to copyright restrictions.)