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Special issue. Marc Chagall "BONJOUR, LA PATRIE!"
"Bonjour, la Patrie" is the largest exhibition of the work of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) ever to be held in Russia. The name comes from one of Chagall's own paintings. It is of great significance not just as a long-awaited encounter of the celebrated master's work and Russian art-lovers (major Chagall exhibitions to be held here were in 1973 at the Tretyakov Gallery, in 1987 at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, in 1992 at the Tretyakov Gallery), but because of the importance that the theme of the motherland played in Chagall's life and work, the motherland both large and small, lost and regained, constantly present in his art and nourishing the unique originality of his creative world
The present publication reproduces Chagall's texts completely as they are. Spelling and punctuation are adapted to modern literary norms. In some cases the text is subdivided into paragraphs absent in the author's original. Those words that were written by the author in a reduced form or were not finished are given in square brackets. Words underlined by the author are given in italics.
Whenever my family went to visit our grandfather at his home in the South of France, he would greet us in his sunny and spacious studio. After welcoming us, he would return to his work and sit down in front of his easel, imbued by the light coming through the large bay window. He would pick up a few long brushes with great deliberation, and proceed to place paint onto the canvas in a most delicate, precise and quick fashion, similar to a dance; he would call it "picoter", to peck. It was amazing to watch him paint with such energy. Sometimes he would look at us, his grandchildren, and smile, tenderly and timidly. Grandfather would ask us, quite sheepishly, always in doubt, as to whether his work would be liked or understood, if we liked the painting... and then encouraged by our somewhat mandatory positive answer, he'd usually return to his canvas, and say, "Ah, now it just needs a little more Chagall!"
Chagall often used to drop in to the Maeght Foundation, which was close to the Les Collines house-studio built by the artist in Saint-Paul in the shade of tall pine trees. During his walks in the rare hours set aside for rest (how hard he always worked!), invariably accompanied by his wife Vava, he would visit us at the Foundation to see the latest works or take another look at pictures by artists he liked: Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Fernand Leger, Georges Bracque, Joan Miro and many other contemporaries who had been pioneers of the new art, like he was.
Abram Efros's brilliant essay on the great artist contains the following disappointingly unfair lines. "It can now be said that Chagall made us pay a high price for his Jewish form of stage imagery. The theatre is simply not in his blood."1 These words reflect the conflict that arose in 1921 in the Jewish Chamber Theatre between Marc Chagall, on the one hand, and director Alexei Granovsky and Efros himself, in charge of design, on the other. Today this distant conflict and Efros's assessment of it merely serve to illustrate how stupendous, how overwhelming was the Vitebsk master's work in the theatre. For the best part of a century Marc Chagall showed on many occasions that there was a rich vein of theatre in his blood.
Some years ago the French critics reviewed the later work by Chagall as being repetitive, decorative and commercial. They placed greater homage and importance on the artistic innovation of his earlier work produced in Russia, and his first visit to Paris (1911-1914). Conversely the public, though, do not share the same opinion. At each successive exhibitions, the majority of viewers appear to universally agree that the later works from the artist's vaste oeuvre are part of a harmogenized continuum which predicate and conclude his entire works. Evidence is partly due to the number of major inclusions of post 1945 works in exhibitions throughout the world. Countries have increasingly demanded a holistic overview of his episodic creative output. Each country receiving a Chagall exhibition relates to it with their own historic and national perogatives. What Chagall does, by radiating his exquisite colour combinations and iconographical elements provides and emphathizes the different needs for the ever changing generations of viewers. Iconographical elements like exuberant flower bouquets, lovers and biblical interpretations are imbued with a universal language of peace, and consequently many diverse cultures find significant reference points in his work.
The canvases that he produced during the second French period, from 1923 to 194 1, which include his exile in the United States, were marked by the same ambivalence. Certain works had all the appearance of surrealist influences, but this is not the case. The spectacular Nu au-dessus de Vitebsk (Nude above Vitebsk) of 1933, which holds, in effect, more of an autobiographical, narrative revelation than of a surrealist dream. In this painting, the nude is treated in a manner which became more of a return to an earlier order of the early twenties in France. The polished style and the quality of the design shows a consummate academic exercise understanding the long tradition of nude painting viewed from the back, apart from his grappling, arbitrarily beneath the urban landscape. But this arbitrariness is not an overt "surrealist" aspect of the work (it is reminiscent of the painting of Man Ray, A l'Heure de l'observatoire, les amoureux (Time of Observatory, The Lovers) of 1932-1934).
Ever since my early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible. It has always seemed to me, and still seems to me today, to be the greatest source of poetry of all time. Ever since then, I have searched for its reflection in life and art: the Bible is like an echo of nature, and this is the secret I have tried to convey.