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Marc Chagall

Lawrence Bush
March 27, 2018

Pioneering modern artist Marc Chagall died on this date in 1985 (born in 1887). His origins in the heavily Jewish town of Vitebsk (Belarus) were most in evidence in his dreamy, poetic paintings; from the very beginning of Chagall’s career, writes Susan Tumarkin Goodman, he chose to “cherish and publicly express” his Jewish roots as a means of “self-assertion and an expression of principle.” Chagall was an outstanding colorist  and a prolific and diverse artist, accomplished as a painter, illustrator, set designer, ceramicist, printmaker, and (late in his life) stained-glass artist who created world-renowned windows for the Metz Cathedral (France), the synagogue of Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, the United Nations building in New York, and churches around the world. He barely escaped occupied France in 1941 and spent the war years in America. In 1946, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a 40-year retrospective of his work, before Chagall returned to France and spent the rest of his life there. (In his mid-70s, he devoted five years to painting the 2400 square-foot ceiling of the Paris Opera House.) One biographer, Jackie Wullschlager, describes Chagall’s work as capturing “the thrill and terror of the 20th century. . . The triumph of modernism, the breakthrough in art to an expression of inner life,” and “world wars, revolution, ethnic persecution, the murder and exile of millions.” While other modernists moved towards abstraction, Chagall “distilled his experiences . . . into images at once immediate, simple, and symbolic, to which everyone could respond.”

“Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.” —Marc Chagall

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.