• gerard van weyenbergh

Marc Chagall , important painting explained


No doubt, It is a Chagall.

At first glance, we recognize this symphony of festive colors with a cloudy texture, dominated by a blue and red marriage. These flying characters are surrounded by violins, bouquets of flowers, and smiling animals. But, more than a concentrate of the inimitable style of Marc Chagall (1887–1985) who animates reality with a magical breath by sending logic and perspective waltzing, this painting, deposited by the Center Pompidou at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille in 1990, is above all a declaration of love for his Russian past and his missing relatives.

When he finished this work in 1947, Chagall was 60 years old, and WWII just ended. The young man seated in front of an easel, palette in hand in the left corner of the canvas, it is him, 40 years ago! The painter returns in the haze of his memories to resuscitate, in an apparition, the ghosts of a bygone world ...

The artist was born in the Russian Empire, in Liozna, near Vitebsk. And it is this small town located by the river in the northeast of present-day Belarus, whose church and small bluish shacks can be seen, watched over by a crescent moon in the lower part of the canvas! For Chagall, Vitebsk is synonymous with a simple and happy childhood. Its snowy alleys where toddlers slipped on sleds to the sound of the violin on feast days, its shtetl, its bulbous domes, its isbas, and its farms, the artist will never stop bringing them to life in his works, even on the ceiling of the Opéra Garnier.

Surrounded by his mother grocer, his father working for a herring merchant, his uncle farmer, and his grandfather, tutor and singer at the synagogue, little Chagall is immersed in spirituality: his mother, Catholic, initiates him to the Bible; the rest of his family to the Hasidic Jewish tradition, which advocates "joyful prayer". Take a good look at the couple located just to the right of the painter: this man who holds a Torah, and this woman who tenderly rests her head against hers, are none other than her parents, who have been dead for several years. The colors chosen are not by chance: blue for his father, a secret and taciturn man in whom everything seemed to him "enigma and sadness"; red for his mother, which radiated energy and covered him with love.

Both are surrounded by many children: they are the six sisters and the painter's younger brother, whom he has never seen since his departure from Russia. The artist had packed his bags for the first time in 1910 to settle in Paris where, staying at La Ruche, a city of artists not far from the Montparnasse district, he had spread his wings in the world of the avant-garde. Returned to Vitebsk for a stay in 1914, he found himself trapped there by the First World War outbreak, then by the revolution of 1917. Forced to stay, he became director of an art school there: the Vitebsk School. But, tired of this administrative work and his conflict with artist Kazimir Malevich, he ended up leaving the country, this time definitively, in 1922.

When World War II began in 1939, Chagall became a French citizen. But the threat of Nazism pushes him to leave reluctantly with his wife Bella Rosenfeld and his daughter Ida. Arrested during a raid in Marseille, the family was saved in extremis by a friend and they managed to flee to the United States in 1941. The 1940s, during which he painted this painting, were the darkest of his life: after learning that German and Soviet soldiers bombed and set Vitebsk on fire, destroying his childhood home in the process, they discovered the horror of the Nazi extermination camps and the murder of six million Jews, of whom nearly 20,000 came from his hometown, he must face the loss of his beloved wife, killed by an infection in 1944.

"Everything turns dark" he said then. But this darkness, the painter transforms it into colors on his dreamy canvases, gentle antidotes to his grief. The bride who flies to the right of the canvas, a bouquet of flowers in her hands, it is indeed her, Bella, his muse with whom he had fallen in love in 1909 and whom he had married in 1915, then immortalized in many paintings including Le Baiser (1915), Above the City (1914–1918) and Promenade (1917–1918).

And if nothing remains of the farmyard where he grew up, a smiling cow points its muzzle despite everything in the upper part of the canvas, recalling those happy moments when, as a child, he went in a cart to the market with his uncle to sell animals. As always with Chagall, love, and tenderness prevail in a festival of light colors. A wonderful lesson of hope!

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