By Sabrina Goldfischer

"If a painter is a Jew and paints life, how is he to keep Jewish elements out of his work! But if he is a good painter, his painting will contain a great deal more. The Jewish content will be there, of course, but his art will aim at universal relevance"
—Marc Chagall, 1933
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Concept/Early Life

Marc Chagall spent a lifetime developing highly unique style. While the galleries of Paris were bustling with Cubist and Fauvist masterpieces, Chagall always remained on the outside. He drew inspiration from these popular art movements, but continued to draw his imagery and themes from his hometown in Belarus, and Jewish motifs he grew up around. Chagall was born in 1887 in Vitebsk. He was a talented painter from early ages, but as he grew up in a Hassidic community, his options were more limited. A significant part of Hassidic culture, however, is music and dance. These elements would continue to transcend into his artwork throughout his life. At 19 he went to a Jewish art school, and in 1907, relocated to St. Petersburg for Imperial Study for the Protection of Fine Arts. Although he found great success at the Swansea School, in set design, and won fame at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne in 1912. Chagall moved to La Ruche, or "The Beehive" and learned from Amedeo Modigliani and Léger. La Ruche is a small artist community outside of Paris. Here his style of painting became airier, and more far from reality in content. I and the Village (1911) and Homage to Apollinaire (1912) are two examples of his revised style. After living in Berlin for a few years, Chagall moved back to Vitebsk and became their Commissar for Art. World War I broke out in August 1914, so he was unable to return to Paris. However, this actually became very inspiring time for him, as he could paint subjects from his childhood with a first-hand, up-close view. Some of his paintings made from his time back in Vitebsk include Jew in Green (1914) and Over Vitebsk (1914). He also used the war as a subject in some of his works, including Wounded Soldier (1914) and Marching (1915).[1]

Part of Chagall's unique style is about of movement in each of his pieces, each full of life and sweeping plains of color. Hassidic culture and religious rituals involve much dance in order to connect to god, so this same usage of movement in his paintings also are a part of his quest for universal relevance of his pieces. This early exposure to music and dance also inspired his love of opera, and set and costume design. Although he slowly grew further away from his hometown and became influenced by international art movements, he retained Jewish elements and traditional themes of life in each of his works. He never lost his dream-like, poetic style that made his works so appealing. Although he was influenced by Cubism, Supremacist, Fauvism, Surrealism, and other modernist movements, he continued to reinforce the narrative elements of his pieces. Years of learning the Old Testament in his required years of religious schooling carried on in the symbols of his later works. Although his style was abstract in certain ways, he never departed from his depiction of life with an emotional, almost phantasmagorical imagery. [2]

Hassidic Dancing

Vitebsk, Russia
external image first-locomotive-on-the-oryol-railway-vitebsk-russia-1867-found-in-picture-id464437655external image image019.jpgexternal image 4d3b56dd5558871321df00b0ba825568.jpg

Green Violinist
external image the-green-violinist-1924.jpgThroughout his early life, cultural conventions constantly reinforced the importance of dance and music in order to connect to God. A person playing the violin was a staple in most celebrations and ceremonies. This fiddler standing upon the roofs of two buildings evoke his rural homeland. [3] This painting, along with "Le Violonist" (1912, also by Chagall), can be considered the precursors and the uncertain inspiration behind the title of the musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Todd Rosenthal, a set designer for the Arena Stage, explained that although fiddlers most likely did not stand on top of houses to play, this concept is "more of an allegory than an actual, physical person." The New York Jewish Museum's curator believes that "his grandfather or uncle was eccentric and often climbed to the roof to be alone." It is also unconfirmed that maybe fiddlers played on houses during funeral processions in old Jewish villages. Whether his image was a cultural symbol or a memory drawn from his past, Chagall continued to pull his imagery from his family's past.[4]

Paris through the Window
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This painting shows the conflict Chagall felt in his identity. Although he was living in Paris, he could not help but feel nostalgic and longing for his life in Russia. The person in the bottom right corner is shown peering in two directions to represent his two loves. The Eiffel Tower in the background also appears to be divided. The painting resembles the work of Robert Delaunay's Eiffel Towers, but Chagall does not try to show different perspectives. His "sur-naturalism" appears in just aiming to extract the beauty and wonder within the scene. [5]

The Triumph of Music
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The Sources of Music

Sets/Costume Design

Violin Costume for Aleko: external image chagal-violin-costume.jpg Drawing of Alicia Markova for Aleko: external image chagalls-drawing-of-markova.jpg

Gypsy costume drawing for Aleko: external image gypsies-costume-design-for-aleko.jpg

Costumes for the Magic Flute: external image magicflute10.jpg Poster of the Magic Flute:external image the-magic-flute-1967.jpg

Paris Opera Ceiling: external image Opera+Garnier+-+Chagall+ceiling.jpgexternal image Palais-Garnier-Paris-Opera-House_1.jpeg

Birth: external image 188540_4158279.jpg

Half Past Three (The Poet): external image the-poet-or-half-past-three-1912.jpg

This is one of Chagall's larger works at around six feet tall. He made this painting in Paris, soon after he moved there from Saint Petersburg. The portrait originally depicted Mazin, a poet from Russia who drank coffee in the morning at his studio. Chagall was inspired by the Yiddish expression fardreiter kop, literally meaning turned head, but symbolizing extreme confusion. The colors look extracted, almost like a prism with the diagonal strokes of color. The viewer feels as if they are peering through a kaleidoscope with the Cubist styles in bright, refracted coloration. The luminous reds, whites, greens, and blues evoke traditional Russian folk art, unlike the dark colors used by Picasso and Braque. [6]

Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers: external image self-portrait-with-seven-digits-autoportrait-1913.jpg

This piece truly embodies Chagall's unique style of blending old cultural conventions into modernized interpretations. Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers (1912-1913) is done in a Cubist style, but the soft, dreamy colors he is known for he infuses within every shape. In the background, he shows views into two locations very significant in his life: Paris and Vitebsk. He literally shows how both places have been very important in shaping the course of his work and life.[7] The view of Paris looks much more angular, as if representing the Cubist craze in the galleries. The view of Vitebsk feels dreamlike, airy, and almost like a scene out of a childhood fairy tale. Although he is dressed in the clothing of a modern Parisian man, he is painting a domestic scene with a large animal in the foreground, and a building with a cross on its roof in the background. The palette he holds in his right hand is covered in beautiful, blending colors that look as if they were used on the actual painting, not just the painting inside of the painting. Right next to the Russian cityscape reads the Hebrew letters Rosiye and Paris. The letters would have been read aloud in Yiddish. Jewish populations in eastern Europe have a long tradition of often speaking three or more languages, including Hebrew, Yiddish, and the native tongue of the region, often Russian. Chagall added an "e" to the end of the word for Russia, showing his rich linguistic heritage. Chagall frequently used this combination of letters and art to make stunning visual effects, similar to the impact of calligraphy from Islamic or Chinese texts. [8] Although upon first glance this painting may look like a regular Cubist portrait, further analsysis shows incredibly detailed cultural ties. Chagall continues making connections to his work by showng himself with seven fingers. This detail's inspiration comes form a Yiddish expression, meaning that one has only tried their absolute best if they have attempted with "seven fingers." As this piece is on a large scale (4.13 feet by 3.52 feet), his ambitions in establishing himself as a prominent artist come through in his piece, the effort behind it done with "seven fingers!" [9]


Grand Bouquet de Renoncules, 1968
  1. ^ "Marc Chagall." Guggenheim. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 May 2017. <>.
  2. ^ "Marc Chagall: French-Russian Draftsman, Painter, and Printmaker." The Art Story: Modern Art Insight. The Art Story Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 May 2017.
  3. ^ "Marc Chagall." Guggenheim. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 May 2017. <>.
  4. ^ Wecker, Menachem. "Marc Chagall: The French Painter Who Inspired the Title 'Fiddler on the Roof'."The Washington Post. WP Company, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 May 2017. <>
  5. ^ "Marc Chagall Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works." The Art Story. The Art Story Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 May 2017.
  6. ^ "Half-Past Three (The Poet)." Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 25 May 2017. <>.
  7. ^ "The Art of Marc Chagall." CBS News. CBS Interactive, 07 May 2017. Web. 24 May 2017.
  8. ^ Jaworski, Adam. 2014. “Metrolingual Art: Multilingualism and Heteroglossia.” International Journal of Bilingualism 18(2): 134-158.
  9. ^ "Collection Marc Chagall: L'Autoportrait Aux Sept Doigts, 1912." Stedelijk Museum. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, n.d. Web. 25 May 2017. <>.