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Monday, December 23, 2013

Chagall, Marc


Self-Portrait with Seven Digits
1913
oil on canvas
128 x 107 cm
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

This painting was Chagall’s first self-portrait, about 25 years old. It was painted in his first Paris studio, where he and 200 fellow artists lived in very poor conditions. It’s an example of how artists can include personal meaning and history in their self-portraits.

He grew up in Belarus, now an independent country, but then part of the Russian empire. His father was a laborer (unskilled construction worker) who struggled to make enough money to support the family. While Chagall spent most of his life in France, he never stopped returning to Belarus in his mind and in his art. In this painting, two landscapes hover above the painter:  his new home of Paris and the memories of his childhood village in Belarus.

His Jewish heritage shows strongly in much of his work, with references to traditional folktales, fables, and beliefs. In Study for Self Portrait with Seven Fingers, Chagall refers to the colorful Yiddish folk expression Mit alle zibn finger, (with all seven fingers,) meaning “working as fast and as hard as possible”.  That explains the extra fingers! The broken, puzzle-like appearance of the objects in the painting is an influence from Cubism, a popular style of painting at the time. He was experimenting with Cubist methods of breaking up reality and reassembling it in new ways.

Chagall said, "For the Cubists, a painting was a surface covered with forms in a certain order. For me a painting is a surface covered with representations of things . . . in which logic and illustration have no importance."

Marc Chagall (1887-1985), was a Belorussian-French artist and one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. Among the celebrated painters of the twentieth century, he is associated with the modern movements after impressionism, including fauvism and Cubism, a twentieth century avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting. In Cubist artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, he depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to present the piece in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles presenting no coherent sense of depth. However, he worked at the fringes of the different movements of modern art, also infusing his work with the folk art of his Belorussian roots as well as his Jewish heritage.

He studied in Saint Petersburg from 1907 to 1910 at the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts and later with Leon Bakst, then he moved to Paris in 1910, where he associated with Guillaume Apollinaire and encountered Fauvism and Cubism. There, he participated in the Salon des Independants and the Salon d'Automne. In 1914, he visited Russia, and was prevented from returning to Paris by the outbreak of war. He settled in Vitebsk, where he was appointed Commissar for Art, and he founded the Vitebsk Popular Art School directing it until disagreements with the Suprematists which resulted in his resignation in 1920. He moved to Moscow and executed his first stage design. After a sojourn in Berlin, he returned to Paris in 1923. During World War II, he fled to the United States, then he returned to and settled permanently in France in 1948. He died March 28, 1985, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.
"Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love." (Chagall)