Marc Chagall

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Chagall, Marc

Chagall, Marc (märk shəgälˈ), 1887–1985, Russian painter. In 1907, Chagall left his native Vitebsk for St. Petersburg, where he studied under L. N. Bakst. In Paris (1910) he began to assimilate cubist characteristics into his expressionistic style in such paintings as Half-Past Three (The Poet) (1911; Philadelphia Mus. of Art). Encouraged by Bolshevik proclamations forbidding anti-Semitism and making Jews citizens, Chagall returned to Russia where he founded and became head of Vitebsk's People's Art College. There he quarreled over curriculum with Constructivists, and when Russia's persecution of Jews began again, he returned (1923) to France, where he spent most of his life (he also lived in New York).

Much of Chagall's work is rendered with an extraordinary formal inventiveness and a deceptive fairy-tale naïveté, and he is considered a forerunner of surrealism. His frequently repeated subject matter was drawn from Russian Jewish life and folklore; he was particularly fond of flower and animal symbols. His major early works included murals for the Jewish State Theater (now in the Tretyakov Mus., Moscow). Among his other well-known works are I and the Village (1911; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City) and The Rabbi of Vitebsk (Art Inst., Chicago). Chagall's twelve stained-glass windows, symbolizing the tribes of Israel, were exhibited in Paris and New York City before being installed (1962) in the Hadassah-Hebrew Univ. Medical Center synagogue in Jerusalem. His two vast murals for New York's Metropolitan Opera House, treating symbolically the sources and the triumph of music, were installed in 1966.

Chagall also designed the sets and costumes for Stravinsky's ballet Firebird (1945), and illustrated numerous books, including Gogol's Dead Souls, La Fontaine's Fables, and Illustrations for the Bible (1956). A museum of his work opened in Nice in 1973. His name is also spelled Shagall.


See his autobiography (1931, tr. 1989); biographies by J.-P. Crespelle (1970), S. Alexander (1978), H. Keller (1979), and J. Wullschlager (2008); studies by F. Meyer (tr. 1964), J. J. Sweeney (1946, repr. 1970), W. Haftmann (1974), and J. Wilson (2007).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chagall, Marc


Born July 7, 1887, in Liozno, near Vitebsk. French painter and graphic artist.

Chagall studied in St. Petersburg from 1907 to 1909 with L. Bakst and others. From 1910 to 1914 he lived in Paris, where he was influenced by cubism. In 1914 he returned to Russia, where he directed the Art School in Vitebsk (from 1917) and participated in the work of the College of Fine Arts. In 1922 he emigrated, settling first in Berlin and then in Paris.

Chagall is one of the most outstanding representatives of modernism. His works are characterized by a keenly subjective perception of reality, reflecting the spiritual crisis of the intelligentsia in the West. The inspiration for most of his works has been his Jewish childhood in a small village, scenes from which he interprets in a symbolic and mystical spirit. Chagall is known for an analogous arrangement of objects in unreal space, linear sketchiness and vagueness, and fantastic and vivid color. Characteristic works are I and My Village (1911, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Over Vitebsk (1914, private collection, Toronto). Chagall illustrated N. V. Gogol’s Dead Souls (etching, 1923–27) and the Bible (lithograph, 1931–36). He has painted a number of decorative works, including a mural for the Kamernyi Jewish Theater in Moscow (1920, Tret’iakov Gallery, Moscow), the sets for G. Balanchine’s production of I. Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird (1944–45), and sketches for stained-glass windows for the cathedral in Metz (1958). In 1973, in connection with an exhibit of his lithographs, Chagall visted the USSR.


Ma vie. Paris, 1931.


Efros, A., and Ia. Tugendkhol’d. Iskusstvo Marka Shagala. Moscow, 1918.
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Mark Shagal.” In his book Ob izobrazitel’nom iskusstve, vol. 1. Moscow, 1961.
Meyer, F. Marc Chagall. Cologne, 1961.
Cassou, J. Chagall. Munich-Zurich, 1966.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.