There is a very nice Chagall exhibit that opened a couple of weeks ago at the Musée du Luxembourg. On Friday I had the opportunity to go with my friend Linda, and we were allowed to take photos of most of the paintings, so I can share a few of my favorites.
I have to say, I've always been drawn to Chagall, although I can't say I've ever really known much about his background or about the symbolism in his (let's face it) surreal and odd paintings. But I find them colorful and intense, and occasionally whimsical.
I mean, how do you NOT get a smile out of a violin-playing goat?
So, this exhibition was an opportunity for me to learn something more about the man and his work. For example, his wife's name was Bella and they were very, very devoted to one another. A lot of his paintings depict couples, love and marriage, and according to the audio commentary, those couples in his paintings were supposed to be Chagall and Bella.
Even when the man in the couple had a goat head... that was still supposed to be Chagall.
I knew that Chagall was Jewish, and that he had grown up in a small village (Vitebsk) in what was then the Russian Empire. Village life was a frequent theme or backdrop in his paintings, and is also one of the reasons he often painted goats or chickens -- they were just a part of that life.
However, the goat in particular has some additional symbolism in Chagall's work, other than just his childhood memories. Traditionally in the Jewish faith, goats were often offered as sacrifices. And also, according to the audio commentary, for Chagall the goat also represented the way in which the Jews were badly treated in Russia and across Europe, especially during the Holocaust.
Chagall and Bella were fortunate enough to get out of France, where they had moved some years before WWII, and they exiled themselves to New York. During those years, Chagall's work took a darker turn (see above for one example) and was filled with religious allegory. He had a fascination with The Bible and also integrated images of Jesus on the cross, not because he was anti-Jesus or because he was thinking about converting to Christianity, but because crucifixion was also a symbol of Jewish suffering.
While he was still in New York, Chagall's beloved Bella died. He didn't work for a very long time after that, but eventually he began to paint again. This painting (below) was entitled "A Ma Femme" (To My Wife) and finished just before her death in 1944.
A few years after the end of the war, Chagall decided to move back to France. Eventually he remarried. His artistic legacy continued and expanded to projects that included designs for stained glass windows in several churches and for the United Nations building in New York, murals, theatre sets and even the ceiling of the Opera Garnier here in Paris (which is just stunning).
Chagall died in France in 1985 at the age of 98. He is buried in the south of France in the town of Vence, not far from Nice. Which I did not know, and now I'm thinking that on a future visit to my sister-in-law I may have to organize a little day trip to Vence; there is a mosaic he designed for a small chapel there as well.
You can learn more about Marc Chagall here, and if you're going to be in Paris in the next few months, this exhibition continues until July 21st at the Musée du Luxembourg. I recommend ordering your tickets on line in advance so you can skip the long wait (we waited nearly an hour starting from around 10:45am). You won't see some of his most well-know works but there is plenty there to see and to learn. I'm glad I went!