blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Avec les yeux de mon âme"

Chagall's parents
The documentary that I watched was directed by François Lévy Kuenz and called Chagall, à la Russie, aux ânes et aux autres (from the title of one of his paintings). It included a lot of footage of the artist, Russian-French-Jewish, speaking in his "bel accent" and smiling impishly. The film also showed him putting some last touches to his paintings, though he was clearly inhibited to be doing this in front of the cameras. (Je ne travaille pas devant les autres.)

He came from a shtetl (Jewish ghetto) in Vitebsk, Russia, where an uncle was the archetypal fiddler on the roof (literally––he liked the view from up there), so this image appears in many paintings. The flying goats and heads of goats are reminiscent of the days when Chagall as an adolescent used to go and comfort the animals during their last hours before slaughter. His father worked for a fish merchant. His mother bribed a schoolmaster to get her son an academic education. He managed to get into the Imperial Academy of Art at St. Petersburg, but kept breaking the rules and moved to Paris to live a Bohemian life, befriended by Apollinaire, Delaunay and Léger where, though lonely and homesick, he managed to acquire some fame, compiling what he called his inventaire of the poverty of Vitebsk. In 1914 his work was exhibited in Berlin but he soon returned to Russia to establish an academy at home, after marrying a Vitebsk girl, Bella, at the start of World War I. The Soviets, when they came to power, dismissed him and ransacked his studio, though the scenery he'd painted for a Jewish theatre in Moscow was rescued, hidden away by one of the actors.

Chagall lived an impoverished life teaching war orphans in the 1920s. Because the paintings that had been on show in Berlin had been lost, he set about recreating them. Returning to Paris, he worked as an illustrator (of Gogol and of La Fontaine and the Bible). Then came persecution by the Nazis––his Crucifixion Blanche was painted at this time. He never understood "why men can be so cruel." In May '41 he and his wife left for America (where his wife died––tout est assombri, he commented). Matisse had Chagall participate in the Artists in Exile exhibition and he designed the backdrops for Stravinsky's Firebird ballet.

La Vie
After the war he was based for the rest of his life in the south of France and eventually opened his own museum in Nice. Not only did he paint canvasses, he also designed the costumes for a New York production of The Magic Flute by Mozart (his favourite composer), painted the domed ceiling at L'Opéra in Paris, then created a wall of mosaics for Chicago, murals for the Met in New York, and stained glass windows for cathedrals and the United Nations HQ. At the age of 75 he made a vast painting that summed up his visions, calling it La Vie. He saw the act of painting and particularly the painting of stained glass as a window to another world, or "from my heart to the heart of the universe." He looked at things "through the eyes of the soul" and art was as necessary to him as food, he said.

No comments: