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Marc Chagall 1887 - 1985

Chagall and Bella.jpg

Colour has always been important to Marc Chagall. In the 1950s Picasso said, "When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is". This statement encompasses the significance of Chagall. His art took turns from monochromatic black and white to playfully bright yet light colours that created pre-surrealist dreamlike images, infused with subjects that meant the most to him.


Born in 1887 and raised in Vitebsk, in what is now Belarus, to humble, yet not poverty-stricken, devoutly Jewish parents, art was not allowed in the home due to their strict religious practices. However, Chagall rejected this attitude that man could not paint what God had created and used his art, laced with Jewish themes, to celebrate his heritage. Eventually, he would be asked to illustrate the Bible. Chagall’s life was about more than religion. He was politically charged, passionate about Europe, had strong artistic connections and, as a result, was extremely influential in the development of the Modern art movement.

'The freer the soul, the more abstract painting becomes'


When Chagall was 20 years old, he set off to St Petersburg where, for three years, he studied intermittently. Eventually, he worked there for a stage designer named Leon Bakst whose teachings would be carried by Chagall for his entire career. Then, in 1910, Chagall, funded by a donation from a patron, moved to Paris. Here, he was confronted by the hive of artistic activity, meeting with fellow artists such as Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay. Inspired by the Fauvists, Chagall gave up the sombre palette he had employed at home and approached his work with new poetic and, seemingly irrational, tendencies. His new palette exemplified the complexity and resonance of his depictions, while his figurative images resembled a film-like montage. This four-year phase in Paris is often hailed as the best of his career, during which many of his master works were completed. From his series of works from 1911-1913, Chagall had already become the artist he would continue to be for the next 60 years.


With the outbreak of the First World War, Chagall moved around, from Berlin where he was a respected artist, back to Moscow. Here he was involved, unsuccessfully, in making political art. He decided to leave Russia for good, married his muse Bella Rosenfeld, had a daughter and settled once again in Paris. He now had new skills. While in Berlin, Chagall learnt how to engrave and began etching. This acted as a springboard for a career in printmaking. In the years between the two wars, Chagall travelled a lot. Yet as the Second World War became increasingly threatening, he and his family went to Western France, but this was not safe enough. With some help from the art scene in New York, by 1941 the family had moved to the US and spent the next few years in and around New York City. In 1944, his wife died, and her memory became one of the frequent motifs used in his later works. Also in the mid-40s, Chagall designed backdrops for ballets and was given a large retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1946.


After his work became increasingly dark in America, Chagall settled again in France and continued to work. He exercised many techniques and used various mediums, even mastering the difficult art of staining glass, the resulting pieces are considered to be some of the strongest works of his later career. He also continued being involved in theatre design and mural painting. Before passing away in 1985, he was prolific for many years and was awarded a retrospective at the Louvre, Paris in 1977.

Slade House collects and owns original lithographs, giclees and limited edition prints by all of the artists represented here - only some of which are for sale online. Please get in touch if you would like to see our wider collection. 

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