Marc Chagall

10 October 2016

Discuss how the environment and other influences, for example personal beliefs, have shaped the work of at least one artist you have studied this year. Refer to work done by this artist to substantiate your statements. Marc Chagall was a Russian/French artist who was born into a poor family of Hassidic Jews on the 7th July 1887. Throughout his working life he was based in Russia from 1906-1910, then he moved to France for four more years before moving back to Russia and Soviet Belarus for eight years. Chagall was strongly influenced, but not limited to, movements such as Cubism, Fauvism and Surrealism.

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These movements are demonstrated in his work through the geometric shapes, his use of colour and the seemingly random placement of people and objects in his works. Chagall described his work as, “… extravagant art, a flaming vermillion, a blue soul flooding over my paintings. ” Chagall’s childhood in the small country town of Vitebsk, Belarus was happy and is another influence for his artworks. Small provincial ghettos are presented in some way in many of his artworks. Chagall said that, “The soil that nourished the roots of my art was Vitebsk”. Many childhood memories are presented in his artworks.

His religion is also another large influence fore Chagall, many of his paintings include Jewish symbolism and refer to Judaism. There were limited opportunities to study art in Vitebsk and after an argument with his father; he moved to St Petersburg to study, he lived quite a risky and independent life. Shortly after, he moved to Paris where he met friends, Robert and Sonia Delauney. They were very influential to his style- predominantly in Chagall’s use of colour and in his cubist technique. While living in the poverty areas of Paris, he lightened his palette and his use of colour became more harmonious and unified.

This is the palette that creates the basis for some of his well known works such as “I and the Village” (1911), “The Green Violinist” (1923-24), and “Solitude” (1933). Chagall has managed to produce many great works of art throughout his life and was greatly influenced by his surroundings, childhood, friends and Judaic religion. In 1911, Chagall was living in the poverty area of La Ruche. This is where he created “I and the Village”, an artwork that is a dreamlike/surreal representation of Chagall’s childhood memories. This is a colourful and busy painting that has a subtle blend of organic and geometrical shapes within.

The bright colours create interest as they are often contrasting with each other. For example, the green face against the red background. The colours are vivid and flat, with a minimal use of blending, this shows Chagall’s use of fauvism. The minimal use of blending also adds to the form of the painting, which is quite flat in most areas and the objects look two-dimensional. The radial balance created by the lines leading into the centre of the artwork draw a specific emphasis to the main focal points, that is, the green man and the goat.

The man is wearing a pink hat, a beaded necklace with the sign of the cross on it, a purple and yellow shirt and a ring with the Star of David on it symbolising Judaism. The man is holding up a bushel of leaves and it appears as though he is presenting it to the goat. The goat is placed within the golden mean and it is a close up of its head. The goat is composed of many geometrical shapes. It is looking into the eyes of the man and the man is looking into the eyes of the goat. This could symbolise that the man has a strong connection with the goat or the village in which the goat belongs to.

In the background of the reveals street of houses and buildings, some of which are upside down adding to the surrealist feel of the artwork. In front of the houses there are two people, a man who is holding a pick and a woman who is upside down. The last significant feature in the artwork is the woman milking a goat, in the face of the larger goat. All of these objects and people within the artwork look like tributes from Chagall’s memory of the rural village he grew up in. the lines of the geometrical shapes create unity. This is because of the circle in the middle of the artwork joining the man, the goat and the background.

This artwork is a surreal representation of the town of Vitebsk where Chagall grew up. Chagall is trying to comment of the relationship of people with the land, which is demonstrated by the man looking at the goat as an equal and also by the woman milking a goat. As there are in many of Chagall’s works, there is a spiritual reference in this artwork. The goat and the Star of David are the symbolic references. The goat is a great symbol of sacrifice for the Jewish religion. The colours in the artwork are reminiscent of the circus or other flamboyant events.

The man could represent the ringmaster. This could all show the way in which man lives in harmony with animals and the environment. The large circle in the middle of the page could symbolise the sun and the all the chaos surrounding it could show that the earth and everything on it is dependent on the sun for life. The bright colours could also symbolise the fake world, opposed to that of the world when Chagall grew up. In “The Green Violinist” (1923-24) we see a green man wearing a purple coat, which is composed of geometrical shapes.

He is placed in the centre of the artwork and is standing on or floating in the air above a couple of houses playing a violin. The fact that he is the only object that is coloured brightly in secondary colours compared to the rest of the painting in neutral tones of browns and greys; the man is the main focal point. The geometric shapes of the purple coat are defined by the tonal changes, which reflect the suggested sunlight. In the background there is more houses and a man flies over the clouds above the houses. This adds to the dreamlike state of the painting.

Chagall has used colour, shape, size, emphasis and balance to compose the artwork and communicate his ideas. The subject matter of the artwork is obvious as the colours are bright in contrast to the dull monotonous background. Also the subject matter has been placed in the centre of the artwork and makes most of the positive space. The symmetrical balance supports the harmony to the viewer’s eye. The cubist movement is evident through the geometrical shapes on the coat, the rectangles on the trousers and even in the circles that form the clouds in the sky. Fauvism is also represented by the colour of the man.

Surrealism is illustrated through the proportion of the man in relation to the houses; he is larger than the houses and everything else around him. The dog in the bottom left corner is interested in the violinist, but also could be a vicious dog. The latter could also represent the persecution of the Jewish throughout Russia during the time period in which this artwork was painted. That fact that the violinist has been painted so vibrantly and differently to the background could also show that the Jews ‘did not fit in’ throughout Europe and also shows how they were singled out, even though they were not any different.

It is evident that Chagall’s artworks in some way or another are connected to his hometown of Vitebsk. This artwork could symbolise the fearfulness of political changes that happened to the rural town of Vitebsk during the early 1900’s such as the change from the Tsarist rule (when Chagall was born) to the communist revolution that sent Russia into dismay. In Jewish villages the violinist is a significant character who plays at life changing ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, births, etc. therefore, the symbolic value of the violinist in this painting could be about the life hanging moments within the town. To stay true to ones character throughout the changes. This painting is a reflection of moving into the future and a recollection of Chagall’s Jewish upbringing. The 1930’s was the decade of the depression and also the peak for the Nazi’s. Chagall’s painting, “Solitude” (1933) represents the feeling of the Jews in this time in history. This artwork depicts a middle-aged man, who looks biblical and is dressed in a white headdress, is holding a scriptural scroll and is sitting next to a goat with a violin.

Above them flies a white angel (God’s messenger) amidst the sinister looking smoky black clouds. These objects stand out, as they are all white contrasting against a dark grey background. there is a symmetrical balance in the artwork. The man and the goat are sitting on the grass outside of a village. This could mean they are not wanted inside the village – this shows the persecution of the Jews. The sacrificial goat is another strong symbol of the Jewish religion, in this painting it looks as though it is providing some form of hope and comfort to the man as it sits next to him in a loyal manner looking up at him.

The name “Solitude” represents the cultural persecution of the Jews throughout Europe in 1933. Due to the Nazi rule, Jews were especially feeling hated in this era. This artwork demonstrates what the Nazi’s were doing to the whole Jewish race and is a political dissent. Through his use of the Torah, sacrificial goat, the historical rabbi figure and God’s messenger the angel, Chagall intentionally signifies the turn of Europe in the 1930’s. Ethnicity, religion and class are all aspects of this painting as the Jewish religion and ethnicity are shown to have no power in Europe as the Nazi’s attempted genocide.

In 1933, Nazi general, Goebbels had ordered some of Chagall’s works to be publically burnt in Mannheim, Germany. In 1941, Chagall and his family moved to the United States of America to flee the Jewish persecution in Europe. 3 years later, his beloved wife Bella died. This stunted his creativity for a momentous amount of time. He soon regained his spirits and returned to France with his new wife Virginia Haggard and together they worked in theatre. Virginia left him, and then in 1952 Chagall met and married Valentine Brodski who encouraged him to get back to painting.

In 1968 Russia held an exhibition to honour the works of Chagall. In 1985, Chagall reached his death while in France and was aged 97 years old. Chagall said, “In our life there is a single colour, as on an artists palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the colour of love. ” Chagall’s works were inspired by love, his childhood, the environment and his religion, which made his works so passionate and popular with the public. They were often influenced by the Cubists, Fauvist and Surrealist movements, which fitted so well with his motifs.

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