||With English translation and illustrations from Marc Chagall's Exodus.
Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born in Liozno, Vitebsk in Belorussia; his family name was Segal, and he himself later adopted the spelling "Chagall." His father worked in the warehouse of a herring-monger. Chagall was sent to heder as a child and then attended the public school. There he discovered his talent, and to the alarm of his father, but with his mother's support, he enrolled in the local art school. In the winter of 1906–07, he went to St. Petersburg and was awarded a scholarship to the school sponsored by the Imperial Society for the Furtherance of the Arts. Subsequently, he was greatly stimulated by the instruction he received at the Svanseva School from Leon Bakst. The lawyer Max Vinaver admired Chagall's talent and gave him a monthly allowance so that he could go to Paris. He stayed in Paris from 1910 to 1914 and in May 1914 held a one-man show in Berlin. He then returned to Vitebsk, and the outbreak of World War I prevented him from going back to Paris. He was drafted into the Czarist army, and was given a desk job in a government office, being able to paint in his free time. In 1915 he married Bella Rosenfeld. In the fall of 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to power, Chagall was appointed commissar for fine arts in Vitebsk, and director of the newly established Free Academy of Art. Later, in Moscow, he was appointed designer for the Chamber State Jewish Theater. But his aesthetics, influenced by the cubism of Picasso, did not please the artistically reactionary party officials and, in the summer of 1922, he left Russia with his family. He stopped in Berlin, where the dealer, Paul Cassirer, issued a portfolio of the 20 etchings Chagall had made to illustrate his autobiography, Ma Vie (1931; My Life, 1960).
In 1923, he settled in France. Etchings for deluxe editions of Gogol's Dead Souls and La Fontaine's Fables, and for the Old Testament, commissioned by the dealer, Ambroise Vollard, provided him with funds. Slowly his pictures found buyers, and he gained recognition in France, Germany, and Switzerland. But in Nazi Germany 57 of his works were confiscated from public collections, and some were held up for ridicule in the "Degenerate Art" exhibition at Munich in 1937. Fearing persecution by the Nazis when they invaded France, the Chagalls escaped to the United States, arriving in New York in June, 1941. Bella Chagall died in 1944, shortly after finishing her memoirs, Burning Lights (1946, with illustrations by Chagall). In 1948 Chagall decided to return to France. In 1952 he married Valentine Brodsky. Chagall received commissions to make decorations for a Catholic church in Assy in the French Alps, and to design stained glass windows for the cathedral in Metz, for the synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, and a large glass panel in the entrance to the UN Secretariat. He also designed a stained glass panel for the audience hall in the Vatican. He painted a new ceiling for the opera in Paris, murals for the New York Metropolitan Opera House, and contributed a mural, floor mosaics, and designs for the curtains for the new Knesset in Jerusalem. He received many prizes as well as honorary university degrees. In 1967 plans were made for a Chagall Museum at Cimiez, just outside Nice, not far from his permanent residence at Saint-Paul de Vence. The artist donated many of his pictures on biblical themes to this museum. Chagall's work - mostly paintings in watercolor, gouache, or oil, many etchings and lithographs, but also a few sculptures and ceramics, as well as designs executed by craftsmen in a variety of media - is not easily cataloged. At the very outset of his career he rebelled against the insipid realism that prevailed in Russia about 1900, though his color scheme remained darkish and subdued until his experiences in France allowed him to brighten his palette, especially under the influence of Gauguin. He was influenced by cubism, but his poetic quasi-cubism, with easily recognizable subject matter, was different from the experiments of the more rigid cubists, who whittled down life and content in geometrical patterns. Chagall's large curvilinear forms are arrived at through broad, rich, colors applied with a lyrical, poetic quality. Non-naturalistic colors are generally favored. There is little of the academic painter's orthodox perspective. His Jewish whimsicality is frequently apparent in his work and his simplification often calls to mind what a child or a peasant might have painted. Chagall in his youth must have looked with deep interest at the Russian popular art he encountered in or around Vitebsk.
The preponderance of specifically Jewish subject matter in Chagall's work is significant. He was thoroughly familiar with Jewish customs and his inspiration derived from a clearly definable, specific milieu in a particular period (c. 1887–1907). Though he was inspired by Parisian vistas and by various landscapes in France, the locale for most of Chagall's works is the Jewish quarter of his native city. Equally important is the influence of Hasidism which prevailed in his family.