Marc Chagall painted a world filled with color, light and fantasy and brought an inimitable style of his own to twentieth century art.
Early Life and Education
Marc Chagall was born Moishe Segal in 1887 in the city of Vitebsk, now part of Belarus. He was the eldest of nine children in a household that was very poor, but rich in the culture and orthodoxy of Judaism. Chagall’s father did manual labor for a herring merchant and his mother sold groceries from their home to help make ends meet.
The freedom of movement of Jews was restricted in Russia when Chagall was growing up and they were not allowed to attend secular schools, so Chagall studied in the local Jewish school. Chagall’s mother bribed a headmaster to allow Chagall to study in a secular Russian school, and it was there that he became interested in learning to draw.
His father was not happy with Chagall’s decision to pursue a career as an artist, but his mother was very supportive. Jewish artist, Yehuda Pen, had an art school in Vitebsk, and Chagall attended the school for a few months, before deciding, at age 19, to get a special passport, which allowed him to go to St. Petersburg and study at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting.
Career and Family
In 1910, Chagall moved to France, the country that became his home for the remainder of his life. It was there that he studied at the Académie de La Palette and developed his own artistic style. The city of his birth and his Jewish identity were the underlying inspirations for his work. Although Chagall lived through much conflict in Russia and two World Wars, his work has a hopefulness and wistful quality that is universally relatable.
Chagall returned to Vitebsk to marry Bella Rosenfeld. The couple had one daughter, Ida, who was born in Vitebsk at the start of World War l and were not able to return to France until 1923.
By then, Chagall’s reputation as a consummate artist was secured and, in 1926, he had his first exhibit in the U.S.
Chagall and his family were among the many artists and intellectuals that were smuggled out of France during World War ll. In 1944, Bella, who had been Chagall’s muse, contracted a viral infection and died. It was many months before Chagall began to paint again.
Chagall had a relationship with Virginia Haggard, and they had a son, but Haggard ended the relationship after seven years.
In 1952, Chagall married Valentina Brodsky, twenty five years his junior, who remained with him until his death in 1985, at age 97.
Marc Chagall’s incredible paintings, murals and stained glass windows can be found around the world. His murals can be seen at the Paris Opera House and Lincoln Center. His stained glass windows grace the United Nations building, the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, and the Mertz Cathedral in France.
Although much of the city of Vitebsk was destroyed during World War ll, and the Jewish population of the city is less than 0.1%, the Marc Chagall Art Center, established in 1992, still stands.