Marc Chagall

"It's a whole life that identifies itself with my work."

Chagall, in conversation with curator Sylvie Forestier; from Marc Chagall: Les années méditerranéennes 1949-1985 (Nice, Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, 1994), at p. 27

Marc Chagall enjoyed a long and prolific career in Western Europe and the United States. He produced paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, designs for theatre and ballet, and painted décors. In his later years, he was a major artist in stained glass. His influence was especially strong in 1920s-1930s Paris.

Chagall received a traditional Jewish education before attending Russian high school. He studied art with Yehuda Pen (1854-1937) and Nicholas Roerich, then enrolled in Léon Bakst's and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky's Zvantseva School. From 1910 Chagall lived mostly in France, except during wartime exiles in Russia and the U.S.A. He changed his name to Marc Chagall. During the 1920s and 1930s, his Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard was an important friend and support. Chagall's travels in the 1930s to Palestine and Poland (where he encountered anti-Semitism) deepened his attachment to his Jewish faith. His art reflects his religion, his Hassidic Jewish-Russian heritage (Memory of My Youth, 1924), and his happy marriages. His lifelong love of colour was intensified by working in stained glass, with the help of Charles Marq.

Born to a Hassidic Jewish family in the Jewish Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire, Chagall was initially named Móyshe Shagáll. After a happy childhood in Belarussia, Chagall moved to Paris in 1910. He returned to Russia for a family wedding, and was trapped there by the outbreak of World War I. Chagall remained from 1914 to 1922, founding a museum and art school and designing for theatres. In 1922, Chagall (now married) left for Berlin, settling in Paris in 1923. He illustrated books for Vollard and created paintings in expressive colours, often celebrating love (The Eiffel Tower, 1929). In the 1930s Chagall traveled in Europe and Palestine. A French citizen from 1937, he was imprisoned in World War II by the Vichy Government, but released by American intervention. He sought refuge in the U.S. in 1941. By his return to France in 1948, he was internationally famous. He settled near Nice, experimenting in various art forms, including a painted ceiling for the Paris Opéra in 1964. Chagall's works often depict subjects from the Bible, mythology and folklore. The National Gallery owns many of his lithographs and etchings, executed as book illustrations or as sets of prints. Among these are Les âmes mortes [Dead Souls], 1948; Fables, Vol. 1 [de La Fontaine], 1952; Bible, Vol. 1, 1956; The Story of the Exodus, 1966 and The Tempest, 1975. Chagall's magnificent Daphnis and Chloé, 1957-61 testifies to the artist's intensive study of printmaking technique. Chagall also composed poetry, and wrote (in Yiddish, French and Russian) about art and his life.


1939 Third Prize, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, U.S.A. (for Chagall's Les Fiancés)

1948 Prize for printmaking, Venice Biennale

1959 Honorary doctorate, Glasgow University; elected honorary member, American Academy of Arts and Letters

1960 Honorary doctorate, Brandeis University, Massachusetts; shares with Oskar Kokoschka the Erasmus Prize, awarded by the European Cultural Foundation

1965 Honorary doctorate, Notre-Dame University, Indiana, U.S.A.

1973 Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall opened in Nice, France

1977 Grande Croix de la Légion d'Honneur

© 1965 Yousuf Karsh