Marc Chagall is counted amongst the most pivotal artists of the 20th century. By blending elements of Symbolism, Surrealism, Fauvism and Cubism with elements of his Jewish legacy, Chagall created another world, one in which emotion ruled via ethereal imagery, thought-provoking composition and spectacular color.
The lives of Jews in Russia was highly restricted, but it was through art that the budding young Chagall could express the joy and comfort he found in his faith without limits. Traditional and academic art were of little interest to Chagall, even as an eager 19-year-old taking his first art classes under Yehuda Pen in his hometown of Vitebsk, Belarus. By 1910, Chagall moved to Paris and enrolled in the Académie de La Palette, an avant-garde school that exposed him to the principles that would give rise to his unparalleled style of painting.
His Jewish roots served as inspiration his entire career. Works rich with symbols of family, love and faith proved to be his most expressive, filled with emotive imagery that is poetic in its execution. In Le Repas des Amoureux, Chagall visualizes the close-knit Jewish community as the guiding light in the lives of a young couple just beginning their journey together. This is Chagall’s Vitebsk, a community where hard-working people depended on one another for support and a sense of belonging.
The impact his hometown had on his art is clear in this letter Chagall wrote entitled “To My City Vitebsk”:
“Why? Why did I leave you many years ago? ... You thought, the boy seeks something, seeks such a special subtlety, that color descending like stars from the sky and landing, bright and transparent, like snow on our roofs. Where did he get it? How would it come to a boy like him? I don't know why he couldn't find it with us, in the city—in his homeland. Maybe the boy is "crazy", but "crazy" for the sake of art. ...You thought: "I can see, I am etched in the boy's heart, but he is still 'flying,' he is still striving to take off, he has 'wind' in his head." ... I did not live with you, but I didn't have one single painting that didn't breathe with your spirit and reflection.”
The paintings of Marc Chagall present more than the dream-like reminiscences of a gifted Jewish artist. They tell the story of every human being and the search for unconditional love, happiness and acceptance.
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