The Life of Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall

“If all life moves inevitably towards its end, then we must, during our own, colour it with our colours of love and hope.” Marc Chagall



“This bibliography focuses on the artist Marc Chagall (b. 1887–d. 1985; born Moyshe Shagal), whose career at the center of modern art movements and institutions saw its evolution in several continents and spanned the 20th century.

“Chagall was one of the most versatile artists of the modern period; he produced tapestries, paintings, stained glass, drawings, prints, sculpture, murals, and stage design and worked in many different genres, such as portraiture, landscape, and illustration. With his migrations from Russia to France to America and his many international commissions, Chagall is variously identified as a Russian painter, a Jewish painter, a French painter, and an international artist and is most adequately associated with multiple identities simultaneously.

“While Chagall has been studied through a variety of lenses, including his artistic influences (surrealism, cubism, primitivism), his major periods, and the ways in which his reputation rose and fell, Jewish studies scholars and art historians of Jewish art have found Chagall’s national cosmopolitanism a useful lens through which to study the relationship between Jews and modernity in the 20th century. Like other Jewish artists who would enter the artistic culture in France, Chagall grew up in a Jewish town (Vitebsk) in the Pale of Settlement. The memory of his childhood home inspired much of his work throughout his career; therefore, many of the texts included in this bibliography give significant attention to the artist’s early life and the residual impact it had on his work and life. The sections of the bibliography approach the artist through categories that concern his cultural heritage as well as through categories that shed light on his artistic choices. The sections defined by geography (his early Russian period, French period, American period, and the period associated with his work in Israel) reflect the regionalism that has informed the vast majority of Chagall scholarship. There are also sections defined by themes and preoccupations relevant to his body of work, such as his attention to biblical themes and his recourse to both Jewish and Christian traditions. General information on particular 20th-century cultural and historical contexts that would have been influential on Chagall’s biography and artistic endeavors is obtainable through the various encyclopedias or survey texts: these range in topics from Russian history at the turn of the century, life in the Jewish ghettoes, traditions in Jewish art, the impact of the Holocaust, and the culture debates of Zionism.

Jewish Art Surveys

“In the broad field of Jewish studies, Marc Chagall holds the place of the quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century. Chagall’s reputation for “Jewish art” has been earned more for his articulation of Yiddish culture than religious identity, and art historians of Jewish art generally give Chagall’s cultural Judaism a prominent role in Jewish art surveys (Kampf 1990), although some surveys conspicuously avoid giving Chagall a central place (Baigell and Heyd 2001). Those that do place Chagall at the center of the Jewish art survey focus more on his themes across genres and mediums and seek to include the scope of his work within the canon of Jewish art (Roth 1971, Schwartz 1949). Sed-Rajna, et al. 1997 places Chagall among Jewish artists searching for a universal visual language such as Marc Rothko and Barnett Newman.”



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