Marc Chagall, Study for ‘The Firebird’ Ballet Curtain, 1945. New York City Ballet

Chagall Does it All: The James Franco of the Art World

Pickin’ it up, and droppin’ it like it’s hot, Marc Chagall dabbled in multiple art genres and mediums: Cubism, Fauvism, Surrealism, painting, stained glass, ceramics, theatre sets and so on. With his unofficial motto being somewhere along the lines of, “Yeah, imma do that, it ain’t no thang,” Chagall dominated the modern art world, sampling and emulating the wares of the majority of the styles of the times and subsequently rejecting them all to build his own – like a true master does.

That artistic range though… Left: Red Bouquet with Lovers. Offset lithograph, 72.4 x 49.5 cm. Right: Above the City, 1914-1918. Oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
That artistic range though… Left: Red Bouquet with Lovers. Offset lithograph, 72.4 x 49.5 cm. Right: Above the City, 1914-1918. Oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

A genius with colour, Chagall employed a whole spectrum in, at the time, unimaginable ways. His quixotic depictions of dreamy subjects took shape in whatever support he could get his gouache encrusted hands on in whatever country he deemed worthy of planting his heels. The saying goes ‘A jack of all trade is a master of none’, but Chagall brushed that decisively away and went for gold. After teaching himself to draw from copying a book, a bit to the chagrin of his parental units, the artist went on to attend multiple formal art schools and later joined the artist community La Ruche (“the Beehive”) in France, where he was influenced by Cubism and Fauvism – in which he excelled, but did not stick with. He was also a part of the modernist Avant-garde as the Commissar of Arts for Vitebsk during the 1917 Russian Revolution and known as ‘the aesthetic arm of the revolution’ (Now that’s a sweet, panty-dropping title.)

Over the years from the early 1900’s to the 1970’s, Chagall bounced around the world and worked through various art styles with some of his finest work bursting through costume and set designs in New York for Stravinsky’s The Firebird in 1945 and Mozart’s The Magic Flute in 1967. While he worked with theatre all of his life, Chagall also took an interest in stained glass, producing pieces for the Cathedral of Metz in France and the United Nations building in New York in the 1950s and 1960’s. Without breaking a sweat, Chagall seemed to taste the rainbow of art forms and reproduce them as classic works for the hungry masses. A precursor to Franco’s ‘hands in all the artistic pies’ style, Chagall couldn’t be satisfied by just one medium of expression, although he did forego the nude selfie to babes on the internet.

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Left: Peace, 1964. Stained glass, 4.6 x 3.7 m. United Nations, New York. Right: 1958-1960. Stained glass. Metz Cathedral, Metz, France.

Like most artists, specific pieces have become defining markers, and for Chagall it is his lithographs of the Greek tale of Daphnis and Chl. Commissioned by an art publisher and his good friend, Tériade, Chagall’s lithographs capture the ethereal feeling of young love in their brilliant colours and almost child-like innocent qualities. Made with over 20 colours for each print, the creation of the lithographs was a paintstakingly precise and delicate process, which served to further elevate Chagall’s standing as a master artist.

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Left: Noon, in Summer, 1961. Colour lithograph, 45 x 31.4 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Center: The Nymph’s Cave, 1961. Lithograph in colours, 42.2 x 64.2 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Right: The Trampled Flowers, 1961. Lithograph in colours, 41.9 x 32.4 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Gathering ideas while on his honeymoon in Greece, the bright and intense colouring of the lithographs clearly portray the radiance of land and the excitement of love, and with the final pieces created just after his marriage to Valentina Brodksy, the strength of his lithographs are reflective of his own emotions at the time. His feelings greatly influenced his art, and of his own works Chagall stated, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works. If from the head almost nothing”. Propelled by emotions and seemingly possessed to feverishly make his mark on every element of art, Chagall strutted through the art world like peacock on cocaine with a paintbrush, showing us just what unbridled passion can look like.

Take a look for yourself at the Chagall: Daphnies & Chloé exhibition from May 28-September 11 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Winnipeg, Canada.

By Alice Bauer

Surrealism

Cubism

The Fauves

Russian Avant-garde

Cover image: Study for ‘The Firebird’ Ballet Curtain, 1945. New York City Ballet