Marc Chagall: The Jewish Painter

Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall was one of the greatest Jewish artists in modern history, beloved not just by Jewish communities but also by the entire world. Best known for his painting, stained glass and use of color, Chagall’s artwork is considered to be “European modernism”, as he spent most of his life in Europe learning to paint. Praised by artists like Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall’s masterpieces are truely something special. Chagall’s Jewish connection influenced many of his pieces. One of his largest pieces is the stained glass windows at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem depicting the 12 Tribes of Israel.  He has also created stained glass windows for the UN building in New York and partially painted the ceiling of the Paris Opera.

Marc Chagall was born as Moishe Shagal in 1887 in Belarus to Hasidic parents, which would later influence his artwork. He was the oldest of nine children and as a child, experienced pogroms and anti-Semitism that spread all across the Russian Empire. Chagall attended a Jewish school during his primary years but when it came time for high school, his mother had to bribe a professor to accept him, as no Jews were allowed in the public schools. This is where Chagall began to learn about art. Chagall saw a fellow classmate drawing and took inspiration from it, teaching himself how to draw by copying images and then drawing them on his own. in his free time, Chagall learnt how to paint from a local Jewish artist, but it wasn’t enough for him.

Chagall moved to St. Petersburg and enrolled in a prestigious art school with the help of identification papers from a friend and was a student of Leon Baskt, another Jewish painter who helped Chagall by being a Jewish role model. Baskt later moved to Paris, only to have also influenced Chagall to move there in 1910, allowing him to expand his art style, taking in Cubism and other styles of the time.  Chagall only spent 4 years in Paris before moving back to Belarus to be with his fiance, and later on wife, Bella.

Marc Chagall began exhibiting his art work and began traveling throughout Europe, showing off his beautiful pieces, some of which were inspired by his Jewish roots but tragedy soon struck. With the rise of Nazi power, Chagall and his wife were able to get to New York in 1941 where he was treated as a celebrity and his artwork became even more popular. Bella passed away in 1944 and Chagall found himself painting pictures of her, trying to preserve her image. In 1947, Chagall moved to France and created some of his largest works there. He painted the ceiling of the Paris Opera House, created stained glass windows for the United Nations building in New York, Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and the Art Institute of Chicago, created tapestries for the Knesset building in Israel, and so much more.

Chagall’s artwork has been featured around the world, many of which include his Jewish heritage and traditions, which he thought were fleeting in the early 1900s but his art had an impact on everyone. Marc Chagall passed away in France in 1985 but his legacy continued to live on, as he became one of the most respected Jewish artists in history. His bold and bright colors, and unique style will always be remembered and cannot be compared to other artist. Even Pablo Picasso said that “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is”.

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