Following years of official neglect by his motherland, Chagall is — posthumously — coming home. For the 100th anniversary of the great Russian Jewish artist’s birth, a major exhibition of paintings by Marc Chagall is scheduled to open at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum next month.
Long neglected in the place of his birth while the Western world praised him as one of the greatest contributors to 20th-century art, this official Soviet recognition of the Jewish artist is regarded as a tangible result of the new Soviet policy of “glasnost.” However, plans for the show have not yet been announced in the USSR.
Poet Andre Voznesensky, a friend of Chagall’s who was instrumental in arranging the exhibit, told the press the exhibit was “a victory of glasnost and of artistic democracy.” Voznesensky has written the introduction to the catalogue for the exhibit.
Some of Chagall’s paintings have been shown in the Soviet Union in the past, but his personal contribution to 20th-century art has not until now been officially recognized. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia mentions him in two paragraphs, in which he is called a “French painter and graphic artist.”
Chagall, born July 7, 1887 in Vitebsk, lived most of his life in France, in Paris before World War II and in the village of St. Paul de Vence in southern France in the years since. He spent the war years in the United States. He died in St. Paul de Vence March 28, 1985 at the age of 97.
DIFFICULTIES IN MOUNTING THE EXHIBIT
The show will include 50 paintings lent by Chagall’s widow, Valentina, 15 from his daughter, Ida, one donated by industrialist Armand Hammer, and several from Soviet museums which have largely hidden Chagall’s works away in storage. Valentina Chagall is expected to come to Moscow to help with the exhibit and to plan ceremonies.
Voznesensky acknowledged difficulties in mounting the exhibit. Authorities in Vitebsk, he told the press, refused to do anything to memorialize Chagall. There will be no celebration there, he said.
Chagall’s birthplace, a small, wood-frame house that survived World War II, still stands at Number 2 Pokrovskaya Street. Voznesensky said it was the home of a Jewish house painter whose mother remembered Chagall. Voznesensky’s attempts to turn the house in-to a museum failed. Many of Chagall’s works, include-the famous “I and the Village,” immortalize Vitebsk.
As a youth, Chagall moved between Vitebsk, Moscow and St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) developing his unique style of art. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Chagall was named commissar for art in the region of Vitebsk. He created art centers and was actively involved in a local theater group that staged productions for the Red Army.
When he moved to Moscow, he produced sets and costumes for the plays of Sholom Aleichem at the State Yiddish Theater, for which he designed the famous scrim that served as the backdrop for many productions. The Jewish Cameo Music Theater, a current Soviet attempt at Yiddish musical entertainment, uses a copy of this scrim.
Chagall emigrated to Berlin in 1922, and then settled in Paris. In 1931 he visited Palestine, which greatly affected his work in terms of painting Biblical figures, and in his use of light. Chagall returned to the USSR only once since leaving, in 1973, for an exhibition of lithographs at a Moscow gallery.
In a recent article in Moscow News, Soviet art scholar Vitaly Loginov writes of his encounters with Chagall. This article indicated a reawakened acceptance of the Jewish artist.
Loginov wrote that Chagall told him in 1973, “When I see Russian landscapes … my heart often aches and I feel homesick.” Loginov said Chagall asked him if he could please take a picture of his house in Vitebsk and send it to him.
In 1930, Chagall entered into an agreement with a renowned French art dealer, Ambroise Vollard, to illustrate the Bible. This decision altered the course of Chagall’s work forever. Jewish themes cropped up in a large part of his work. He once recalled” I think my first little rabbi from Mohileff had the greatest influence on me… Every Saturday, instead of going bathing in the river, my mother sent me to him to study Bible.
The impact of glasnost on the Soviet art world does not stop there. Following the Chagall exhibit, which opens September 2, the Pushkin Museum will mount an exhibit of the works of Salvador Dali, an artist never before exhibited in the Soviet Union. And the Russian Museum in Leningrad will next year show avant-garde art hidden from public view for decades.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.