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FINE ART EXHIBITION: Marc Chagall
Dear Art lovers!
Gallery-Museum Lendava and Municipality of Lendava kindly invite you and your friends to the opening of the exhibition
Creation and Bible,
which will be held on Friday, 18 May 2018, at 7 pm on the Lendava castle.
Opening speech by:
mag. Anton Balažek, Mayor of the Municipality of Lendava and dr. Katarina Mohar, art historian.
The exhibition will be opened by Tone Peršak,
Minister of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.
The exhibition will be on display until 31 October 2018.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was without a doubt one of the greatest, most successful and beloved artists of the 20th century. He created a unique world of pathos, poetry, humour and enchantment, drawing on vivid memories of his Jewish upbringing in his birthplace, Vitebsk, Russia. His original style and connection to the past endured throughout his seven-decade career, despite the great movements and schools of 20th century art which he saw developing around him. All aspects of Chagall’s work are covered here, from paintings to stained glass windows, tapestries, ceramics, theatre sets, costumes, murals and more.
Chagall was not only an artist, but also a poet. He loved painting circus scenes. He wrote: “The circus is a magical world, a game that has been going on for thousands of years, a dance with tears and laughter, a game performed with hands and feet and transformed into high art”. Chagall felt that love was the source of the universe and the foundation of his own existence. We often see lovers in his art and they are imbued with poetry and painted with specific „love colors”.
„I always thought and I still think that the Bible is the greatest source of poetry of all time”.
Work was everything in Chagall’s life. He rarely lingered at his own exhibitions, often fleeing to his studio, which he always missed very much if he had to be away from it for any length of time. He said that he would keep his creative genius and put it to serve the arts as long as people were willing to perceive its fruit. He was deeply convinced that the world was always susceptible to beauty and longed for the exceptional.
He dealt with biblical themes in his graphic cycles for more than 25 years. We are placed at the center of Chagall’s interest in the Bible in his exhibition in Lendava’s castle gallery.
Ambroise Vollard, one of the most important publishers and art dealers of French contemporary art at the beginning of the 20th century, sent Chagall to Palestine in 1931, providing the artist the opportunity to become acquainted with biblical lands that he had previously known only from reading and imagining.
The lithographs or biblical illustrations in this exhibition come from the period in the artist’s creativity that he devoted with great enthusiasm to colored lithographs.
SELECTED WORKS/AUSGEWÄHLTE KUNSTWERKE
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Creation and the Bible
The Russian born Jewish artist, Marc Chagall (1887-1985), is among the giants of 20th century fine arts. His extensive and diverse oeuvre covers paintings, drawings and prints as well as stained-glass windows, tapestries, murals and ceramics, and he depicted his unique, intimate, imaginative and magical passion for the art world with great skill, thereby analyzing mankind’s eternal questions.
Slovenian audiences have already had the opportunity here at home to acquaint themselves with examples of Chagall’s creations. A closer look at the artist’s works to date was made possible at exhibitions of his etchings, intended as illustrations for Gogol’s Dead Souls (Kranj Town Hall and Šivec House in Radovljica, 1984, and Cankarjev dom, 1996); a selection of his lithographs (Obal Gallery Piran, 1995), and a number of prints from his most important series (City Museum of Ljubljana, 2009). The show in Lendava’s castle gallery also focuses on Chagall’s graphics oeuvre: 135 works from the Richard H. Mayer collection in Bamberg – for us the largest so far, it offers insights into his creative peaks.
Marc Chagall (Moishe Shagal) was born on July 6, 1887 in Liozna near Vitebsk (present-day Republic of Belarus), then a cosmopolitan, predominantly Jewish city with a vibrant cultural life that strongly influenced the artist’s development. He began learning to paint in the town of his birth, moving to St. Petersburg, and in 1910 he made his first trip beyond the boundaries of the former Russian Empire, to Paris. The city impressed him and completely absorbed him in its productive rhythm. His nights were spent painting in his studio and his days exploring museums and galleries. During his stay in that center of art, where some of the greatest masters of modernism such as Pablo Picasso, George Braque and Henri Matisse were active contemporaneously, Chagall was introduced to the various avantgarde artistic movements; nevertheless, he maintained his distance throughout his entire career. During his initial stay in Paris, he had already established himself through his unusual, intensely colored compositions, based as they were on imaginative, almost irrational, images linked to the everyday life of Russian Jews.
Chagall’s art was defined to a large extent by important historical and personal turning points, which were never lacking in his nearly one century long lifespan. The beginning of the First World War surprised him while he was visiting Vitebsk. He stayed in Russia and after the October Revolution, participated briefly in renovation projects (cultural) that were soon taken over by artists such as El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky. A lack of interest in Chagall’s distinctly personal narrative, which differed considerably from the approved contemporary avant-garde, intellectualist view of painting, motivated his return to Paris in 1923. With the exception of his emigration to the United States during the Second World War, a traumatic period for the Jewish painter, for his first wife, Bella, died while they were living in New York, France remained his home. He spent the postwar days in his Riviera villa in the picturesque town of St. Paul de Vence, inspired by the intense colors, light and forms of the Mediterranean surroundings. He was inhibited by neither age nor fame. Notwithstanding his renown as one of the most respectable and recognizable painters in the world, he continued to tackle new challenges with the childlike enthusiasm characteristic of his works, and even in his later years, he delved into new media and techniques that would allow him a more direct expression of his artistic endeavors. Alongside painting on canvas, that played a central role in his creativity, he also tried his hand at drawing and monumental painting – that is, murals, stained glass windows and tapestries. He was loyal to printing from the start, regarding it as equal to other artistic techniques, and he created some of his most outstanding works in it.
“Whenever I bent over the lithography stone it was as though I was touching a talisman. It seemed as though I could pour all my sadness and joys into it.”
Chagall started printing in 1921 while writing his autobiography, My Life, illustrating it with etchings. Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), an ambitious publicist and art dealer and one of the art scene’s major figures in the early half of the 20th century, encouraged him to pursue the technique further. Chagall had recently returned to Paris, well-established, but impoverished from his emigration, and Vollard ordered a series of prints from him that he wanted to publish as art books: beginning with Chagall’s etchings for Gogol’s Dead Souls (1923-1927), followed by The Fables of La Fontaine (1927-1930), and finally, the Bible (1931-1939, 1952-1956). The commissioned etchings of biblical motifs were not completed until a decade after Vollard’s death. They were published by Tériade Éditions, and thanks to the notably positive reactions of the public, enthusiastic about Chagall’s informality, ease and precision, more prints were ordered from the artist, this time lithographs.
The exhibited works represent Chagall’s early research in the technique of colored lithography, to which, as a pronounced colorist, he was well suited. At the age of sixty and some years, he eagerly began to learn the process at the Mourlot Studios in Paris, specializing in printing artistic lithographs. Thanks to studio director Fernand Mourlot, lithography’s popularity was undergoing a revival at that time; in response to Mourlot’s invitation, a technique that had been used above all for posters began to be explored by the best painters of the 20th century. In addition to Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró and other Modernists worked directly on lithographic stones in the studio, under the guidance of printing masters, producing limited series of prints. In his recollections, the French master printmaker, Charles Sorlier, who was Chagall’s regular associate, told how the Russian artist usually went about the procedure by drawing his compositions on stone. After making some experimental (black and white) proofs, he painted them with watercolor or pastel and prepared his plates in different color combinations. He corrected the test proofs, adding new colors to them until he was satisfied with the outcome and approved them for printing, usually limiting them to an average of 50 sheets.
All the lithographs displayed in Lendava’s Gallery- Museum were printed in such a manner at the Mourlot printing studio. Chagall’s Bible illustrations were published in 1956 (The Bible / La Bible) and 1960 (Drawings for the Bible / Dessins pour la Bible) in two editions of the prestigious Parisian art magazine, Vèrve. Although they were printed in the Mourlot Studio, they were published at the above-mentioned Tériade Éditions.
“If we had nothing of Chagall but his Bible, he would be for us a great modern artist.”
In search of inspiration for biblical motifs, Chagall traveled to Egypt, Palestine and Syria in 1931, experiencing places of which he had only heard and dreamed. He returned there several times; however, he often described his earliest visit to the Holy Land as a moment of truth in his life, because he found not only the Bible, but also himself.
Chagall had an inherent affinity for the Bible, and the Old Testament had captivated him even as a child. He grew up in a traditional Hasidic Jewish family where the Torah was an important point of reference for everyday life. In his own words, the Bible seemed to him, “the greatest source of poetry of all time.” The poet-painter, as Chagall was called by his contemporaries because of his poetic imagery, approached the interpretation of the Bible’s words with extreme sensitivity. He concentrated on questions of humanity’s greatest trials and victories, returning to them again and again, and using them as subjects for his biblical drawings. On his prints he portrayed people he knew, who were part of his (inner) world, capable of weakness, doubt and betrayal, and also of immense courage and love in relation to God and those near to him. He depicted the Old Testament not only as a story or history of the Jews, but as a narrative of all humankind and their trust in it. He believed that knowledge and understanding of the Bible were one way to improve the world and eradicate evil, and precisely through Chagall’s lively, dramatic, emotionally charged images, its tradition touches a wider audience.
In the exhibited prints for the Bible and Drawings for the Bible, Chagall deviated from the motifs of fear and guilt that characterized his etchings for the Vollard Bible and portrayed a much lighter, more cheerful, and thanks to lithographic techniques, even more colorful world. This time, he placed his biblical heroes in Paradise, where they live in peace and happiness, together with nature. One of the lithographs – Moses and the People – was created for Chagall’s edition of the Biblical Message (Le Message biblique, 1972), that accompanied the establishment of a museum of the same name in Nice, where the largest collection of the artist’s works with religious motifs is still exhibited today.
“I don’t know where he gets those images; he must have an angel in his head.”
One of the most distinctive particularities and the greatness of Chagall’s art is its exceptional iconographic variety. A selection of prints where the artist examined his favorite motifs and created magical, imaginative and playfully full compositions offers valuable insights into the exhibition.
He concentrated on the world he knew well, so it is not surprising that related images are prominent in his biography. Along with a number of self-portraits in various disguises, motifs of romantic couples appear with remarkable frequency, and ever since he painted himself with his first wife, Bella, his dedication to them never faltered. There are also themes of motherhood, and of places that strongly marked his personality. We constantly meet with Vitebsk and the special features of its topography, found only in the world of art since the city’s destruction during World War II, and we encounter the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral and Vence, rich in wild growth.
An important theme that Chagall has dealt with throughout his entire oeuvre is the characterization of entertainers. The colorful world of musicians and circus artists in their carnival atmosphere always appealed to him; twisted acrobatic bodies, bright clown costumes and the laughter and joy they bring were suitable foundations for building fantastic works befitting some other dream reality, where cows can be blue or even green and fish and lovers hover above church bell towers.
That was why Chagall’s contemporaries often called him a forerunner of Surrealism, which he always denied, just as he did other attempts to define his works. His impressive oeuvre evades any rigid stylistic categorization; he is committed to neither abstraction nor to the world of realistic images, but is engaged elsewhere. Chagall’s art still fits best in the world of poetry and metaphor where – apart from the emotions he interposes – nothing is like it is in reality.
dr. Katarina Mohar
France Stele Institute of Art History