Rusian-born French Modernist Painter
Marc Chagall, born Moishe Shagal
Rusian-born French Modernist Painter
When I painted his portrait and offered it to him, he glanced at the canvas, then, looking at himself in the mirror, thought a moment and said: Well, no! Keep it!
Will God or someone else give me the strength to breathe the breath of prayer and mourning into my paintings, the breath of prayer for redemption and resurrection?
My grandfather, a teacher of religion, could think of nothing better than to place my father ? his eldest son, still a child ? as a clerk with a firm of herring wholesalers, and his youngest son with a barber. No, my father was not a clerk, but, for thirty-two years, a plain. He lifted heavy barrels, and my heart used to twist like a Turkish pretzel as I watched him carrying those loads and stirring the little herrings with his frozen hands? Sometimes my father?s clothes would glisten with herring brine. The light played above him, besides him. But his face, now yellow, now clear, would sometimes break into a wan smile.
The sun has only ever shone for me in France (it certainly did that!). I have got used to beating the streets of Paris, happy beyond words dreaming of a life 125 years long - with the Louvre radiant in the distance. (Chagall couldn?t go back to Paris because of the outbreak of the first World War, fh). Having ended up in the Russian provinces, ?I have decided to die ?.
My hands were too soft.. I had to find some special occupation, some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars that would allow me to discover the meaning of life.
There you are, said Efros (Granovsky), leading me into a dark room, ?These walls are all yours, you can do what you like with them?. It was a completely demolished apartment that had been abandoned by bourgeois refugees. ?You see?, he continued, ?the benches for the audience will be here; the stage there.? To tell the truth, all I could see there was the remains of a kitchen.. ..And I flung myself at the walls. The canvases were stretched out on the floor. Workmen, actors walked over them. The rooms and corridors were in the process of being repaired; piles of shavings lay among my tubes of paint, my sketches. At every step one dislodged cigarette-ends, crusts of bread.
My name is Marc, my emotional life is sensitive and my purse is empty, but they say I have talent.
Two or three o?clock in the morning (in his studio, around 1911, in ?La Ruche? an old factory where many artists as Soutine, Archipenko, L‚ger, Modigliani had their studio, fh). The sky is blue. Dawn is breaking. Down there, a little way off, they slaughtered cattle, cows bellowed, and I painted them. I used to sit up like that all night long. It?s already a week since the studio was cleaned out. Frames, eggshells, empty two-sou soup tins lie about higgledy-piggledy? On the shelves, reproductions of El Greco and C‚zanne lay next tot the remains of a herring I had cut in two, the head for the first day, the tail for the next, and Thank God, a few crusts of bread.
My works are dear to me, each in its own way; I shall have to answer for them on the Day off Judgment. God alone knows whether I shall ever see them again. Quite apart from the money which I was going to receive for their sale there and it is no small sum.
We all know that a good person can be a bad artist. But no one will ever be a genuine artist unless he is a great human being and thus also a good one.
Neither Imperial Russia, nor the Russia of the Soviets needs me. They don't understand me. I am a stranger to them. I'm certain Rembrandt loves me.
What a genius, that Picasso. It is a pity he doesn't paint.
No academy could have given me all I discovered by getting my teeth into the exhibitions, the shop windows, and the museums of Paris. Beginning with the market ? where, for lack of money, I bought only a piece of a long cucumber ? the workman in his blue overall, the most ardent followers of Cubism, everything showed a definite feeling for proportion, clarity, an accurate sense of form, of a more painterly kind of painting, even in the canvases of second-rate artists.
What I mean by 'abstract' is something which comes to life spontaneously through a gamut of contrasts, plastic at the same time as psychic, and pervades both the picture and the eye of the spectator with conceptions of new and unfamiliar elements.
Now at least "artists have the upper hand" in the town (Vitebsk). They get totally engrossed in their disputes about art, I am utterly exhausted and 'dream' of 'abroad'? After all, there is no more suitable place for artists to be (for me, at least) than at the easel, and I dream of being able to devote myself exclusively to my pictures. Of course, little by little one paints something, but it?s not the real thing.
When I am finishing a picture, I hold some God-made object up to it - a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand - as a final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there's a clash between the two, it's bad art.
One day a student asked Taiga, 'What is the most difficult part of painting?' Taiga answered, 'The part of the paper where nothing is painted is the most difficult.'
One fine day (but all days are fine) as my mother was putting the bread in the oven, I went up to her, and taking her by her flour-smeared elbow I said to her, 'Mama, I want to be a painter.'
One must always be careful not to let one's work be covered with moss.
Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.
Only the great distance that separates Paris from my native town prevented me from going back.. ..It was the Louvre that put end to all these hesitations. When I walked around the circular Veronese room and the rooms that the works of Manet, Delacroix and Courbet are in, I desired nothing more. In my imagination Russia took the form of a basket suspended from a parachute. The deflated pear of the balloon was hanging down, growing cold and descending slowly in the course of the years. This was how Russian art appeared to me, or something of the sort... It was as if Russian art had been fatally condemned to remain in the wake of the West.
Let them eat their fill of their square pears on their triangular tables!
Or is all this fuss actually important for ?art history ?? Oh, no, never. If things only ever originated as a result of such competition, it wouldn?t be worth living among them, like an accidental, capricious toy. Clearly there is a greater, a more serene and more modest power, but we are either too lazy to live by its laws, or we have no time, or it ?hurts too much?.
Listen what happened to me when I was in the fifth form, in the drawing lesson. An old-timer in the front row, the one who pinched me the most often, suddenly showed me a sketch on tissue paper, copied from the magazine ?Niva?: The Smoker. In this pandemonium! Leave me alone. I don?t remember very well but this drawing, done not by me but by that fathead, immediately threw me into a rage. It roused a hyena in me. I ran to the library, grabbed that big volume of ?Niva? and began to copy the portrait of the composer Rubinstein, fascinated by his crow?s-feet and his wrinkles, or by a Greek woman and other illustrations; maybe I improvised some too, I hung them all up in my bedroom..
The Jews might well, were they of such a mind (as I am, lament the disappearance of all those who painted the wooden synagogues in the small towns and villages (oh why haven?t I gone to my grave with them!), and the carvers of the wooden ?school mallets? ? ?quiet boy!? (and if you should see them in Ansky?s collection, you?ll get a shock!). But is there really any difference between my ancestor from Mohiliev, who painted the synagogue there, and myself, who painted the Jewish theatre in Moscow (and a good theatre it is at that)? ?I am convinced that, were I to stop shaving, you would see in me a deceptive likeness.