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Marc Chagall – The Russian-Jewish Artist, a European Modernist Painter

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Marc Chagall – The Russian-Jewish Artist, a European Modernist Painter

The 20th century European Modernist, Figurative artist, Mark Zakharovich Shagal, or Marc Chagall was born Moshe Shagal on July 7, 1887 in Vitebsk, Belarus, the then part of the Russian Federation. The eldest of nine children, Marc hailed from a Russian-Jewish family. His father, Khatskl (Zakhar) Shagal, worked for a herring merchant and his mother, Feige-Ite, ran a small grocery store. During his early years, Chagall was not allowed to attend a local community school because of his Jewish descent. His mother had to bribe the head master fifty rubles to allow him in.

Chagall started drawing as a schoolchild. He copied portraits and other famous drawings. Jewish-Belarusian artist-painter Yehuda Pen tutored him on painting in 1906. In 1907, Marc joined the School of the Society of Art Supporters, at St. Petersburg. He was taught there by the Russian painter, Nikolai Roerich. During 1908-10, Marc Chagall studied at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting. In 1909, at the age of twenty, on one of his journeys back home, Marc met his future wife, Bella Rosenfeld.

On the professional front, Chagall gradually attained fame as an artist. Soon after, he moved to Paris, the then considered center for the artistic community. He befriended Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, and Fernand Léger there. In 1914, Marc was back home and married Bella in 1915. They had one daughter from the marriage in 1916, when the World War I also began.

The artist dabbled in every possible medium of art, ranging from his paintings to his book illustrations, stage sets, ceramics, stained glass windows, tapestries, and print-making. ‘Cubism,’ ‘Symbolism,’ ‘Fauvism,’ and ‘Surrealism,’ all were his forte. Bella posed as a model for many of Chagall’s works. The artist achieved recognition for several of his works, such as “Me and My Village (1911),” “Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers (1912-13),” “Red Jew (1915),” “Above the City (1914-1918),” and “The Fall of the Angel (1923-1947).” Upon his return to Russia, Marc Chagall joined the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was also made the Fine Arts Commissar of Vitebsk.

In 1920, Chagall, his wife, and their daughter shifted to Moscow and to Paris in 1923. In 1937, Marc gained French citizenship. Owing to World War II, however, the family had to flee to Madrid. During 1941-1948, they resided in the United States. Jewish martyrs and Jewish refugees were mostly depicted in most of Chagall’s works of this time. Meanwhile, on September 02, 1944, his wife passed away. The artist did not paint anything for the next nine months. In 1945, however, Chagall struck a romantic relationship with his thirty years old housekeeper, Virginia Haggard McNeil, with whom he even had a son. The couple moved to Paris in 1950. The same year, Marc began with Graphics, coupled with “Cubism” and “Fauvism” influences. Here, Virginia left him for another man in 1952. Later, Chagall married Valentina Brodsky, who was 25 years younger to him. Valentina encouraged him to undertake large artistic projects, for example, the “Cycle Biblical Message,” which was later installed in the National Museum of the Marc Chagall Biblical Message in Nice, France.

Marc’s visits to Greece and Israel in 1957 helped him evolve the complete concept of Color Symbolism and Figurative Art. This was when he started with sculpturing, ceramics, and stained glass painting. Mark Chagall traveled extensively throughout the world and produced immense bodies of work throughout his career. ‘Russian Expressionism’ and ‘French Cubism’ influenced Mark’s style of painting. Chagall died on March 28, 1985, at the age of 97, at Saint Paul, France.

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