Marc Chagall

Great art picks up where nature ends. -- Marc Chagall

I am out to introduce a psychic shock into my painting, one that is always motivated by pictorial reasoning: that is to say, a fourth dimension. -- Marc Chagall

When Chagall paints, you do not know if he is asleep or awake. Somewhere or other inside his head, there must be an angel. -- Pablo Picasso

Artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985), born Mark Zakharovich Shagalov in Belarus, spent his later years in France. He is best known for his paintings of angels.

Marc Chagall was born in a Jewish ghetto in the small town of Vitebsk. He was one of ten children, his father packed herrings in a local factory. Herrings are often seen as symbols in his work.

As a child he drew, wrote poetry and learnt to play the violin.

Becoming a painter was an unlikely occupation for an impoverish Jew, nevertheless at the age of twenty, he ran away to St Petersburg, where he managed to study at two of St Petersburg's art schools. It was illegal for a Jew to be in St Petersburg without a permit.

It was during this period that Chagall had a vision of angels. Whilst drifting off to sleep, he was woken by what he thought was a rustle of wings. His room was filled with an unearthly blue light and he saw an angel hovering above him. The angel slowly floated away up through the ceiling taking with it the brilliant blue light.

From that day on, blue and angels was to dominate his work.

His wife Bella of many years until she tragically died, had piercing blue eyes. He said she brought 'blue air, love and flowers' into the room every time he saw her.

In his painting The Marriage, an angel is seen to bless the young couple.

In 1910, the married couple moved to Paris. They were then to spend their time moving between Paris and Moscow whilst his reputation as an artist slowly grew. For a short period during World War II, the couple lived in the United States, having fled Jewish persecution in Nazi-occupied Europe.

In 1944, his beloved Bella died. Blue Concert combines his early angelic vision with the faces of Bella and their daughter Ida.

The depression Chagall experienced following Bella's death was alleviated when he met Virginia Haggard, by whom he had a son, David (McNeil). He was to later, in 1952, marry Valentina Brodsky (who he called "Vava").

Angels were not his only source of inspiration, he also drew inspiration from the Hebrew Bible, and, strange for a Jew, from the Crucifixion, one of his major works being The White Crucifixion.

I have been fascinated by the Bible since I was very young. It always seemed to me, and it still does, that the Bible is the greatest source of poetry that has ever existed. Since that time, I have been seeking to express this philosophy in life and art.

Chagall was commissioned for great public works of art: A stained glass wall at the UN, stained glass windows for the Hadassah University Medical School depicting Jewish folk lore.

Whilst working on the stained glass window for the medical school he said: 'All the time I was working I felt my father and mother were looking over my shoulder, and behind them were Jews, millions of banished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago.'

There were fears the glass window would be destroyed during the Six Day War, but writing from France, Chagall famously wrote: "I am not worried about the windows, only about the safety of Israel. Let Israel be safe and I will make you lovelier windows."

The only church with a complete set of Chagall stained glass is in the village of Tudeley, in Kent, England.

Chagall died in France in 1985, shortly after an exhibition of his work in Russia. He lies buried in a local cemetery.

Chagall said the inspiration for his work came from a fourth dimension. Messages from across the transition zone?

Jon Anderson, vocalist with the rock group Yes and also did work with Vangelis, cited Chagall as a source of inspiration.

Russian artist Dasha Balashova is also renowned for her paintings of angels.



Johanna Skilling, Marc Chagall: Painter of Angels [in Beliefnet (ed), The Big Book of Angels, Hinkler Books, 2003] [see BCID 5812825]

Art ~ Dasha Balashova
(c) Keith Parkins 2008 -- February 2008 rev 1