Marc Chagall: I Am…

Marc Chagall in studio“I am a child who is getting on.” –Marc Chagall

“Chagall, the Russian-born painter who went against the current of 20th-century art with his fanciful images of blue cows, flying lovers, biblical prophets and green-faced fiddlers on roofs, had a firm idea of who he was and what he wanted to accomplish. But when it came to guarding his privacy, he was a master of deflection. Sometimes when people approached to ask if he was that famous painter Marc Chagall, he would answer, “No,” or more absurdly, “I don’t think so,” or point to someone else and say slyly, “Maybe that’s him.” With his slanting, pale-blue eyes, his unruly hair and the mobile face of a mischievous faun, Chagall gave one biographer the impression that he was “always slightly hallucinating.” One of those who knew him best, Virginia Haggard McNeil, David’s mother and Chagall’s companion for seven years, characterized him as “full of contradictions—generous and guarded, naïve and shrewd, explosive and secret, humorous and sad, vulnerable and strong.”

“Chagall himself said he was a dreamer who never woke up. “Some art historians have sought to decrypt his symbols,” says Jean-Michel Foray, director of the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum in Nice, “but there’s no consensus on what they mean. We cannot interpret them because they are simply part of his world, like figures from a dream.” Pablo Picasso, his sometime friend and rival (“What a genius, that Picasso,” Chagall once joked. “It’s a pity he doesn’t paint”), marveled at the Russian’s feeling for light and the originality of his imagery. “I don’t know where he gets those images. . . . ” said Picasso. “He must have an angel in his head.” -Smithsonian

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