Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk (Belarus), Russia into a devout Hassidic Jewish family. Growing up in Hasidic environs of Jewish customs and Russian folklore, Chagall formed a Jewish identity that would render his endeavors uniquely Chagall. Having attended local Jewish religious schools, Chagall was enriched with the studies of Hebrew and the Old Testament. Such teachings would later inspire much of the subject matters and motifs in Chagall's paintings, etchings and stained-glass work. It was in 1906, from Vitebsk to St Petersburg, that Chagall refined his skill and genius under the tutelages of artists such as the famous Russian portrait artist Yehuda Pen and artist and set designer Leon Bakst. In a Russian Empire of unkindness towards Jews, Bakst, a devout Jew himself, indulged in the young Chagall’s expressive approach to Jewish imagery and themes in his work. In 1910, Chagall, fleeing the parochial Vitebsk, relocated to Paris to develop his artistic style. Arriving in the then avant-garde Paris, Chagall was greeted by a Cubist dominated art society that bore works of new and more radical art movements. Chagall’s gift of colour, unashamed response to sentiment, sensitivity for simple poetry and a sense of humour soon caught the attentions of not painters, but of poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire.
Befriending Guillaume Apollinaire and other avant-garde extraordinaires such as Robert Delaunay and Fernand Léger, Chagall enrolled at the Académie de La Palette, an avant-garde school of art and exhausted his free time visiting galleries and salons. Individualistically, Chagall would experiment with the influences of his avant-garde Parisian surroundings, however, never being entirely governed by the new movements. Dominating his canvases would be kaleidoscopes of colours, pictorial representations of the fantastical gambols of the human consciousness and remembrances of his Hasidic Jewish roots. Most recognizable for their dream-like quality, Chagall’s oeuvre would divulge the artist’s contradicting character. As volatile as dreams would be, both Chagall and his art seethed with contradictions: liberal and guarded, childlike and brazen, impassioned and reserved, humorous and sad, vulnerable and strong. It would be the supernatural dream-like quality of Chagall’s oeuvre that would make his fantastical paintings world-renowned. Chagall’s emphasis on individuality, fantastical universalism, the pursuit for the totality of mankind and his fascination with the sophistications of worldly European aesthetic forms left him a legacy as an extraordinarily major Jewish artist and a pioneer of modernism. In terms of relevance, in the 21st contemporary world, Chagall continues to be an inspiration to the world, leaving an inheritance of artworks that convey the enchantment of colours and the liberty of imagination. Chagall’s works are highly revered and collected by museums and private collectors alike. In New York, the MoMA put together a retrospective of his work in 1946 and a series of solo exhibitions were organized throughout Europe in 1947 (Paris, Amsterdam, Bern, Zurich). In 1966 Chagall’s Bible illustrations were exhibited at the Louvre Museum, making him one of the very few artists to have had their work exhibited in the prestigious museum during their lifetime. In 1973 the Marc Chagall Museum in Nice was inaugurated in recognition of this master and his works.
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