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Marc Chagall

I know Marc Chagall quite well.  First, as my husband and I were travelling from Germany, where we had bought a car, to Paris, we stopped at Metz, where Chagall had created stained-glass windows to replace the ones destroyed by a fireworks display honoring Emperor William I, in 1877.  We also stopped Reims, where the kings of France were crowned and where Chagall would also replace molten stained-glass windows.

Second, later that year, David and I, escorted by friends, went to the great Paris Chagall retrospective.  At one point, I had seen so many people and animals flying over roof tops and leaning against one another, that I declared a state of emergency.  No, it was not what you think, but I, the great art lover, could not take it any more.  I was suffering from a serious case of overexposure, as was everyone else, except that they politely carried on…

Yet, I love Chagall (7 July 1887 – 28 March 1985).  He was born in Russia, but moved to Paris in 1910, at a time when “isms” in art followed one another at a pace so rapid one could barely keep up.  In this regard, Chagall is credited for having influenced the Surrealists.  But Chagall was Chagall, true to himself.  In fact, he never left childhood.

He loved France but returned to Vitebsk, his hometown, to marry Bella Rosenfeld, the fiancée he had left.  War broke out, so Chagall remained in Russia until the early 1920s, when he and Bella travelled back to Paris.

During the 1930s, before World War II, a large number of Jewish artists, scientists, and other luminaries had moved to North America or sent their children to Palestine.  But Chagall stayed in France until a quick withdrawal had to be set in motion.  He was a famous artist, which protected him.  He left France in May 1941.

Bella died in New York of what seems a virus infection, which, I should think, could have been cured.  By then scientists had developed penicillin.  However, Chagall remarried, at least briefly, but Bella was the woman of his life.

Chagall’s Life

“By the time he died in France in 1985—the last surviving master of European
modernism, outliving Joan Miró by two years—he had experienced at first hand the high hopes and rushing disappointments of the Russian Revolution, and had witnessed the end of the Pale, the near annihilation of European Jewry, and the obliteration of Vitebsk, his home town, where only 118 of a population of 240,000 survived the Second World War.” (Serena Davies, “Chagall: Love and Exile by Jack Wullscheger –review,” UK Daily Telegraph, 11 October 2008).

© Micheline Walker
22 July 2012