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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.