Art for the people: Finding Marc Chagall’s work in public places

    Chagall Four Seasons Mosaic

    Marc Chagall, one of the most famous artists of all time, brought his Jewish aesthetic to everything he did. The artist famously declared, “If a painter is Jewish and paints life, how can he help having Jewish elements in his work! But if he is a good painter, there will be more than that. The Jewish element will be there, but his art will tend to approach the universal.”

    Chagall’s early work captured shtetl life in rural Belarus, where he was born. Unlike many Modernist artists who looked for exotic subjects, Chagall found material in the everyday traditions from his childhood, Russian folk art, and his roots in Hasidic Judaism.

    The People’s Voice

    When Fascism marched through Europe in the 1930’s, Chagall’s work became more political. He began painting Jesus Christ as the original Jewish Martyr. In White Crucifixion, painted after Kristallnacht in 1938, he depicts Jews subject to violence. Homes and synagogues burn in the background, while Christ, wearing a prayer shawl in place of a loincloth, dies in the center.

    White Crucifixion

    In 1937, Chagall’s art was among 650 works from German museums confiscated by the Nazis for an exhibit mocking and disgracing “Degenerate Art.” He found refuge in the United States in 1941, after the director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art personally added him to a list of European artists who needed protection from the Nazis.

    Throughout his long career, Chagall often brought his talents to projects intended for the public. You don’t need a museum pass to enjoy some of his most colorful work. You just need to know where to look.

    1Churches and Cathedrals

    One of nine Chagall windows at St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz, Germany

    Chagall’s use of bright colors and dreamy images is ideal for stained glass, and he produced windows for many houses of worship. St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz, Germany, features nine Chagall stained glass windows with biblical themes.

    In France

    Reims Cathedral, France
    Biblical-themed windows at Reims Cathedral in France.
    Metz Cathedral, France
    Biblical-themed windows at Metz Cathedral in France.

    In England

    All Saint's Church in Kent
    The All Saints’ Church in Tudeley, Kent, England, is the only church in the world in which all of the stained glass windows were designed by Chagall.

    In America

    Union Church of Pocantico Hills
    There’s even a church in America with Chagall’s windows. At the tiny, non-denominational Union Church of Pocantico in Tarrytown, NY, you’ll find nine colorful windows, including a Good Samaritan window dedicated to John D. Rockefeller. This country church also features a rose window by Henri Matisse, his last work of art before his death in 1954.

    2Public Buildings

    Chagall Mosaic Wall

    In Chicago, don’t miss the Four Seasons at the Chase Tower. Chagall made this 70-foot ceramic wall mural entirely of mosaic tiles. The wall was donated to the city of Chicago by the late American investor Frederick H. Prince.

    Hadassah Hospital

    Chagall Hadassah Windows
    Chagall also created stained-glass windows for the synagogue at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.

    The Knesset

    The Knesset
    If you ever tour the Knesset, your guide will be sure to point out the mosaics and tapestries Chagall made for the Israeli parliament building.

    3Theaters

    In 1964, Chagall also provided the ceiling fresco for Garnier Opera, a Paris landmark and the setting for the wildly popular musical The Phantom of the Opera. Surrounding a large, sparkling chandelier directly in the center of the ceiling, the Modernist style painting includes stills from operas by 14 different composers, including Mozart, Wagner, and Stravinsky.

    Metropolitan Opera House Chagall mural
    Marc Chagall painting a giant mural for the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

    Keep your eyes open wherever you travel, because no matter where you go, there might be an original Chagall out there around the next corner.

    Ben Fisher
    Ben Fisher is a singer-songwriter based in Seattle. He lived in Israel between the predominantly Arab East and predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem for three years and used his experience there to write his folk/Americana album, Does the Land Remember Me?