On this day: Marc Chagall dies

March 28 1985: From a Russian village to artistic glory

By Jennifer Lipman, March 28, 2011

Visitors to his Jerusalem Windows cannot fail to be struck by the beauty and vibrancy of Jewish artist Marc Chagall’s designs, each featuring one featuring a different tribe of Israel. Bur the Russian born artist, who was 97 when he died, had a legacy that extended far beyond the Hadassah hospital in Israel.

Moishe Shagall was born in what is now Belarus, in the Pale of Settlement, the eldest of nine. His father was a herring merchant, a religious man, like many in the town. But at the age of 20 he went to study art in St Petersburg, later moving to France to pursue his career as a modernist painter.

During the Holocaust he fled from his adopted home to America. He also painted in response to what he was seeing around him, including in the 1945 work Apocalypse in Lilac where a naked Christ is shown raging at a Nazi storm trooper and in the background figures are explicitly tortured by Nazi troops.

His famous windows depicted the biblical point when Jacob blessed his sons and they saw visions of the future.

Chagall took inspiration from the bible, but also from his own life, painting in his signature dreamlike way scenes of life in the Jewish villages of the pale, of lovers flying over rooftops, and of rabbis and violinists.

Now displayed over the world, one of Chagall’s impressionist masterpieces – the 1969 painting of a bride and a fiddler against a dark sky Bestiaire et Musique - sold for an unprecedented £2.7 million last year.

What the JC said: Once asked by a reporter the inevitable question, “Is there a Jewish art?” Chagall replied: “If the art of a Jewish painter is authentic, true and not falsified, it is, indeed, a Jewish art.” Questioned about the figure of a crucified Jew, a Jesus wrapped in a talit, which appeared in a number of his paintings, he said that “the figure Jesus in my paintings is an expression of the human, Jewish sadness, pain and injustice which Jesus personifies.”

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 9:46am, March 28 2011