|Portrait of Chagall by his first art teacher|
who, it seems, could not paint hands.
Tuesday, 4 April 2017
Painting of the Month (70) April 2017: Chagall
Marc Chagall was born in 1887 near Vitebsk, Belarus, at that time a part of the Russian Empire. He occupies two main areas of modern painting; Picasso described him as the last of the great modern colourists and he is also considered to be the pre-eminent Jewish painter of the twentieth century. He was uneasy with that description because, although Jewish themes dominated much of his work he was very interested in modern painting generally.
I find this picture very romantic. It shows him with the love of his life, his first wife Bella. He made a few versions of this picture and many others where they are floating through the air in a dream-like state. In this painting they are floating above his home town of Vitebsk. Below we can see the houses but we are not looking up at the couple, instead we are at the same height as them and looking directly across. The painting is heavily cubist-influenced – note the way that their clothing is beginning to be depicted as a series of individual shapes. Chagall went to Paris at a time when Cubism was the major movement in painting although he returned home to paint this just before the Russian revolution.
There is a suggestion of the Earth’s curvature which accents their height. The symbolism indicates that the couple felt “lighter than air” because of the love they felt for each other. They seem to almost be swimming (I don’t care about splitting infinitives!), in a kind of back-stroke but they are floating as well. So, active and passive at the same time!
Although this is an oil painting on canvas, the houses have the look of a Japanese watercolour and I love the way one of the houses is painted entirely in red. Incidentally, this picture was once considered to be almost pornographic because she is showing some bare wrist!
I don’t want to over-analyze here because I feel that the beauty of the work speaks for itself. Chagall died as recently as 1985 at the age of ninety-seven.
I'm listening to to the wonderful Joan Baez singing the achingly sad
Jesse a beautiful song written by Janice Ian. Listen here.