CULTURE Chagall's celebration of love, beauty of life


Chagall's celebration of love, beauty of life


20:11, August 06, 2021

The largest-ever exhibition of works by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) is in full swing at the Shanghai Jiushi Art Museum, running through October 8.

Following Beijing and Chengdu, Shanghai is the third and last stop of this touring exhibition titled "Love is the Color: Marc Chagall."

The exhibition features 154 original works by Chagall, spanning six decades of his career. Ranging from oil canvases, watercolors and etchings to gouache and ink on canvas, it introduces the legacy of one of the most influential modernist artists of the 20th Century, both as an early modernist, and as an important part of the Jewish artistic tradition.

Art critic Robert Hughes considered Chagall's work "not only the dream of one people but of all humanity."

Born in 1887 in cold Vitebsk, Belarus, Chagall ended up in warm southern France at the age of 98. As an artist who lived through two world wars, he traveled extensively.

Suffering through war, homelessness and the death of his beloved, he buried his deep passion toward his homeland under his brushstrokes, like the "Russian Village" (1929).

"Russian Village," 1929, oil on canvas

And he always conveyed the message of love, and celebrated the beauty of life in his own way.

Throughout his life, he created a large volume of works in which viewers can not only perceive his good mood and romantic character, but also read into his strong faith, innocent nature and optimistic spirit in the face of adversity.

"The works on display are a drop in the bucket for Marc Chagall, who was nearly 100 years old when he died and worked almost until the end of his life," said Felix Ma, curator of the exhibition.

"It was hard to define Chagall's works by a certain state at a certain time as his life was split by dictatorship, revolution, wars and even racial persecution," Ma said. "But his long-term work is surprisingly stable, sometimes regarded as 'inappropriate' or even 'self-repetition.'"

"I am a little Jew of Vitebsk. All that I paint, all that I do, all that I am, is just the little Jew of Vitebsk," Chagall once said.

Predating surrealism, Chagall's early works were among the first expressions of psychic reality in modern art. He presented dreamlike subjects in rich colors and a fluent style, reflecting an awareness of artistic movements, such as expressionism, cubism and even abstraction.

Chagall's repertory of images, including massive bouquets, melancholy clowns, flying lovers, fantastic animals, biblical prophets and fiddlers on roofs, helped make him a leading artist of the School of Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.

The first flying figure who appeared on his canvas was Bella, his first wife who died in 1945. His creativity was later inspired by his new love, Valentina Brodsky, who he married in 1952. During this period, his works were marked with energetic and joyful feelings, expressed by vibrant lines and vivid colors, such as "Lovers on Yellow Background" (1960).

Visitors can look into Chagall's thoughts and inner most feelings through his words written on the exhibition's walls.

"Despite all the troubles of our world, in my heart, I have never given up on the love in which I was brought up or on man's hope in love. In life, just as on the artist's palette, there is but one single color that gives meaning to life and art – the color of love," says one quote of Chagall on the wall.

Besides, flowers are a perpetual inspiration for Chagall.

"You could wonder for hours what flowers mean, but for me they are life itself, in all its happy brilliance," says another of Chagall. "We could not do without flowers. Flowers help you forget life's tragedies."

On closer inspection, viewers will find that pedals and leaves are enlarged by the artist to render their uttermost vitality and radiance.

There is also a group of etchings that Chagall created for the illustration of "La Fontaine's Fables." The collection of fables was adapted by French poet and fabulist Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695), based on the fables of Aesop in ancient Greece, Rome and India.

La Fontaine transformed the complex into simplicity and combined the old with the present, bringing the ancient genre of fables to a new level of literary creation. The black-and-white etchings Chagall created for each story are full of fun.

The largest-ever exhibition of Marc Chagall's works is on display in the city through October 8.

Exhibition info

Dates: Through October 8 (closed on Mondays), 10am - 6pm

Venue: Shanghai Jiushi Art Museum

Address: 6F, 27 Zhongshan Road E1, Huangpu District, Shanghai

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