CHAGALL: Painting a Virgin Visual Language

Marc Chagall Zbigniew Kresowaty,
 Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons

If an artist is given a free-choice to make a home, he or she would catch the first available flight to Paris. Marc Chagall did the same. 

Marc Chagall's local life made him running away from the environment and he lived in Paris.  

Born in Russia, Chagall had lived the best of his years in France. His incidental stays in Berlin and St. Petersburg and other cities in the surround gave him the opportunity to blend his style of painting giving an east European tilt. However, he would not follow the logic of the pictorial representation of the objects. His paintings were influenced by his emotional and poetic nexus. 

Chagall, himself being of Jewish origin, had a deep liking for Jewish Folk-culture that he depicted in his paintings. He lived a long life of almost a century (1887 – 1985), the environment held him and moulded his artistic outputs. His commissioned works for UNO and Cathedrals are like the treasure of the art-world. Chagall's illustrations done for literary books and Bible are also memorable art-pieces he had produced.

The Russian rule prevailing in the town of Vitebsk in which Chagall passed his childhood disallowed Jewish children to study in schools. When Chagall told her mother that “I want to be a painter, she could hardly figure out what he actually meant. But his first teacher and a realist painter Yehuda (Yuri) Pen could understand what the budding artist meant. 

Pen realised the sense of discipline Chagall had in work and the young man’s capacity to understand the value and meaning of the colours. He would not charge him a single penny for the training he imparted to Chagall.   

Marc Chagall Ken and NyettaCC BY 2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Marc Chagall Painting in the
Musee des Beaux-Arts in Lyon

Marc Chagall’s Style of Paintings:  If we imagine Chagall standing surrounded by the galleries, he would see the world’s most remarkable paintings done in the style of cubism, fauvism and symbolism. 

It was the time when Paris was zooming with modernist artists like Picasso and his contemporaries. Chagall interlaced all of these styles of paintings to use them for weaving his own canvases. 

In Paris, Chagall had ample opportunities to get merged in the ocean of modernity of the art. The ocean was created by Picasso, Matisse and Braque. Chagall contributed to it partially. While developing his highly original style, he blended most of the elements of traditional Jewish culture with the technique of modern art. This mixture embedded elegance into his paintings, making him known as a cross- country artists.

Symbolism in Chagall's Art: Had there been no symbolic message in an art-piece, there is no use of painting the same: this is what most great artists believed.   And that is the real reason why the work of any artist should not be taken on its face value. Artist like Chagall would inject symbols to give a message to the world through his paintings. The act of symbolism can be dependent on anything: the environment, the religion or the tastes of an artist. No artist's work can remain untouched by the events happening in his or her personal life. It is a well-known fact that Chagall had lived a life of chaos. He was forced to flee to Paris first and then to New York. 

The Jewish Museum NYCC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Chagall Exhibition at The Jewish Museum New York

The war had played such havoc in his career. On his artistic mind, this had generated a formative effect. It shaped and nourished his style of painting, too. 

His paintings, for a specific period, narrated and symbolized the anguish, as he was forced to leave his homeland first, and then the adopted home. Chagall was a Jew by birth, but the crucifixion of Christ was the subject he chose for depicting pain and suffering. The darkness of his colours gives us the message of destructiveness and acute suffering.

The images Chagall painted were highly innovative. While richly injecting his canvases with the imaginations, his artistic aim was trying to write a fresh visual language. And he greatly succeeded in his aim.

In addition to the painting of canvases, Chagall had acquired the skill to paint stained glass. Many artists find it very difficult to paint on the glass surface. Chagall has got several big and famous commissions for the painting to be done on stained glasses. His glass paintings done at the Cathedral of Metz in France and the building of the United Nations in New York are some of his great stained glass paintings.

Chagall's Paintings: With Nostalgic Fervour.  Chagall had sweet memories of the days passed in his home town Vitebsk. He once wrote that. "My homeland exists only in my soul". This had led his mind choosing the nostalgic subjects which were based on the places and the events he encountered in his childhood. 

Unknown (Mondadori Publishers),
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Russian-born French painter Marc Chagall
(Moishe Segal) smiling next to his wife Vava Brodsky
(Valentina Brodsky). Saint-Paul de Vence, September 1967

Assuming his home town as a personal identity, he wrote that "I did not live with you, but I didn't have one single painting that didn't breathe with your spirit and reflection".

That is how the homeland works on us. That was how the aspect of homeland worked on Chagall.

In one of his famous paintings, I and the Village (1911), that he had painted after coming to Paris, Chagall had let the flood of his memories flowing in full swing. Painted in the style of cubism, that he acquired and accepted as a medium of expression, this painting seems like an index of the floating images from his past life. 

If we look at the transparent spaces in that painting, it reminds us of Chagall's love for the glass painting he would be doing in the coming years. If we look closely at this painting, it depicts the artist's strong desire for security. The face of a man staring at a cow is symbolic, as the cow is considered a symbol of security in the villages. The houses in the backyard are similar to the homes he had left far behind in his homeland Vitebsk.

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