Marc Chagall Exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery
"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.
For many years now Marc Chagall has been one of the Russian-born artists most in demand in the West. Exhibitions of his work are regular events at prestigious museums and galleries in Europe, America and Asia. The Tretyakov Gallery has on many occasions lent a large number of items from its collection to take part in major international projects. Yet most of the paintings in foreign collections have never been displayed in our country. For the first time the Moscow public will have a unique opportunity to see works from different periods of the artist's life, the early Vitebsk items to the celebrated masterpieces of his French period, gathered together in one large exhibition.
The special feature of this exhibition is that the Tretyakov Gallery has managed to organise an impressive number of first-class works by Chagall to be sent to Russia from abroad. Visitors will see twenty-seven famous canvases from the Paris Musee national d'Art moderne (Centre Georges Pompidou) that are crucial for an understanding of the artist's oeuvre. They include such landmarks as The Wedding (1910), To Russia, Donkeys and Others (1911), Angel with Palette (19271936) and Resistance. Resurrection. Liberation (1937-1952). “An historic painting of a scale not often found in the art of the twentieth century,” is how Jean-Michel Foray, director of the Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, has described this triptych. As well as a number of gouaches, the museum has sent the unique three- metre canvas of Abraham and the Three Angels, the first time this remarkable work has left its home in Nice. Another famous canvas that the Russian art-lover will be able to enjoy for the first time is the Yellow Room from the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland.
The exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery consists of more than 180 items. Apart from the above-mentioned collections it includes items from the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, and several other Russian museums, as well as Russian and foreign private collections.
Never before has Chagall's oeuvre been so fully displayed in our country. The exhibition makes it possible to trace the changes in Chagall's artistic language, but above all to see the constants in his inimitable art, which is a mixture of the real and the fantastic, the high and the low, dream and grotesque, visionary ideals and personal and popular memory, national and ritual thought, elements of folklore and Chagall's incredible, extreme sincerity. He is often called the “artist-poet”, and his art, like Apollinaire's, “supra-real”. In Chagall's world we find popular characters, strange cows, donkeys, fiddlers, tradesmen and lovers flying over the town. The town they are flying over is Vitebsk, which the artist never stopped looking for, even when he left his country, and found on the banks of the Seine. As Chagall himself admitted, Paris became a “second Vitebsk” for him. And for the last twenty years of his life the artist acquired his third home, on the Cote d'Azur in the small town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
But the link with Russia was always important to Chagall, for whom it remained an inexhaustible source of subjects and images. His profound love for his country is expressed in the words he wrote in 1927 on the first sheet of his etchings illustrating Dead Souls: “I present [these etchings] to the Tretyakov Gallery with all the love of a Russian artist for his country...” and in one of his last letters to friends in the USSR, which he ended with the words “. I wish you, everyone and my native land happiness.”
An exhibition catalogue has been published in Russian and English. It contains articles on Chagall's work by Russian and foreign specialists, over 600 illustrations, and a detailed chronology of Chagall's life with more than 100 photographs from the archives of his heirs. The catalogue extends the framework of the exhibition greatly and is the fullest publication on Marc Chagall to appear in Russia.
Ladies and gentlemen!
We were invited to join you at the opening ceremony of the largest ever exhibition devoted to Marc Chagall held in Russia. It is great honour and great joy for me to be present.
First of all, today we render homage to the artist born in Russia, who is ranked among the most outstanding artists of the 20th century, and who became very much attached to France too. I am happy to welcome the very representative delegation which has come on this special occasion, and those who rendered their assistance in the presentation of the exhibits, and among whom are members of Marc Chagall's family - Madame Bella Meyer and Madame Meret Meyer.
It is also with the greatest pleasure that I would like to mark the contribution of the State Tretyakov Gallery to this outstanding project, in which two of the largest French museums - the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Nice Museum of the Chagall Biblical Message participated too, and whose directors have honoured us with their presence. Let me also to express once more my deep and sincere gratitude to you, Mr. Valentin Rodionov, and to you Madame Ekaterina Selezneva for this beautiful event.
The Tretyakov Gallery has really been in the forefront of our cultural cooperation for a number of years already. And due to the efforts undertaken by the Gallery we have the opportunity to see here the works brought from France. Moreover, the staff of the Gallery is engaged simultaneously in a number of large-scale actions of cooperation with the most famous museums of our country. Paris will soon be able to respond with an unprecedented event: the first major retrospective of the works of Russian art of the 2nd half of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century will be opened at the Muse'e d'Orsay on September 20 this year; the exhibition will introduce works of art, the major part of which have never been shown before outside Russia. And following this event we plan to realize a project which is very dear to us - Moscow and St. Petersburg will simultaneously exhibit our collections of French art, mostly characteristic of the 18601910s; we hope that both French and Russian private foundations will render their financial support to this project. In other words, as you can see for yourself, France is working hard in order to strengthen our privileged position in the field of art and our close connections with Russia so that each year would be a year of Russia in France, and a year of France in Russia, and that the most famous museums in both countries could in turn host the works of Matisse and Picasso (as in the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum), or of Boltanski (in the Shchusev Museum of Architecture), and as today - of Marc Chagall in the Tretyakov Gallery.
The next such meeting in France will be devoted to literature, and will take place in less than three weeks time within the framework of the “Salon de Livres” in Paris, to which Russia is invited as a guest of honour. And we also know that the Louvre Museum is preparing a large-scale project for the year of 2008.
The Embassy of France is always striving to participate in the realization of these projects. On its part, I would like to thank all those who, like you today, are making their contributions to the development of such tight creative, humane and intellectual connections between our countries.
The Ambassador of France to the Russian Federation
When the idea was first mooted of holding a large Chagall exhibition, it seemed quite utopian. Firstly, there was the problem of collecting all the masterpieces together. Owners are usually reluctant to send their best works, the pride of their collection, to exhibitions in other towns and countries. Secondly, it is a very costly undertaking. And, last but not least, the organisation of large exhibitions with participants from abroad is a highly complex business. Yet the desire to realise the project was stronger than our fears. And having embarked upon it, we discovered to our delight that many partners, both at home and abroad, were keen to cooperate. So today I should like, first and foremost, to thank all those whose enthusiasm and goodwill have helped to solve all the problems and made possible this long-awaited meeting of the artist with Russia.
Our first ally was the Russian Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency of the Ministry of Culture. Without its support, organisational and financial, the project could never have been realised. These efforts were supported by Vneshtorgbank, the Chagall exhibition's general sponsor
Leonard Gianadda from Switzerland was, as usual, the first of the museum's constant partners and friends to provide assistance. In 1990 it was the Gianadda Foundation that helped the Tretyakov Gallery to restore Chagall's priceless murals for the Jewish Theatre; they were exhibited for the first time at the Gianadda Foundation, which marked the beginning of a triumphal world tour.
In recent years no major projects by the Gallery have been realised without the participation of British American Tobacco, which in this case too has assisted with the financing of our exhibition.
Of the almost two-hundred works by Chagall on display at the exhibition, twenty-seven were presented by the Musee national d'Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou; the famous canvas “Abraham and the Three Angels” and the Bible Cycle gouaches were sent by the Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall in Nice; and about forty superb works came from the family's collections. Finally, at the very last moment the question of showing the famous “Yellow Room” from the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland was solved, thanks to the cooperation of the owners and help from the Paris Boulakia Gallery.
The exhibition would not have been such a major one without some highly important works, which the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, and a number of other Russian museums and private collections readily put at our disposal.
I should like to thank all the Tretyakov Gallery staff for the high degree of professionalism and enthusiasm with which they worked on this challenging project.
We are happy to present you with the result of the concerted efforts of the many participants, the “Bonjour, la Patrie!” Chagall exhibition. The Russian public now has the opportunity to see and appreciate fully this collection of works by the acknowledged master of the twentieth century, from his early Vitebsk items to the masterpieces of the French period, many of which are displayed in Russia for the first time.
The catalogue, like the exhibition itself, is an international undertaking. It contains articles by Russian, French and American art historians, which represent an important overview of contemporary Chagall studies. We believe that this book will provide a definitive scholarly and reference work for many specialists and lovers of Chagall's art. I am happy to report that publication of an English version of the catalogue became possible solely thanks to the financial assistance of the Marc Chagall International Foundation, to which Chagall's granddaughter, Meret Meyer, applied for project support. This remarkable lady has assisted the Tretyakov Gallery in preparing the exhibition for the last three years. We must also express our sincere thanks to Jean-Louis Prat, president of the Chagall Committee, for his invaluable consultations.
Director General of the State Tretyakov Gallery
I am glad to state that the exhibition of Marc Chagall's works opens another now the eighth year of cooperation between British American Tobacco Russia and the State Tretyakov Gallery. We are proud to be able to make our contribution to the realization of the Gallery's large-scale exhibition projects, as well as acquisition of new works of art and its technical support.
Having lived the greater part of his life abroad, Marc Chagall considered himself a Russian artist. Today, due to the support of foreign and Russian patrons of art, including BAT Russia, Chagall has returned to his Motherland. Chagall's native town, Vitebsk, is very dear to me too, because my father was born there, on the same street as Chagall. My father had vivid memories of those times and he used to tell me a great deal about Marc Zakharovich, who on his return to Vitebsk after the revolution headed the local Comissariat of Culture.
It makes me very happy to realize that now the Russian public will be able to enjoy the lyrical masterpieces of this outstanding artist, who - according to Vladimir Mayakovsky - “wrote poetry with the paints and colours of his heart”.
I express my gratitude to all the staff of the Tretyakov Gallery, and to Ekaterina Selezneva, curator of Marc Chagall's exhibition “Bonjour, la Pa- trie!”, in particular, for this beautiful occasion. We are sure that this exhibition is a great event in the cultural life of the Russian capital in the year of 2005.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, BAT-Yava Member of the Board of Trustees of the State Tretyakov Gallery
It may seem surprising, even incredible, that a vast number of Marc Chagall's works have never been shown in his homeland, Russia. In spite of the fact that the great artist's oeuvre has long been recognised the whole world over, Russia included, and more than enough time has passed for us, his fellow countrymen, to rectify the situation.
It may be argued that Marc Chagall was born and began his life as an artist in Vitebsk, Belarus, yet this makes no difference. The artist himself regarded Russia as his homeland and suffered when she so demonstratively turned her back on him. What sad poetry resounds in this letter to Russia written in 1927 to one of his few correspondents: "... I am now almost completely cut off from Russia. No one writes to me and I have no one to write to. It is as if I had never been born in Russia. As if I mean nothing there. Yet I often remember my Vitebsk, my fields ... and that special sky."
Today these omissions are being put right, and Marc Chagall is gradually taking the place he deserves in his country's culture. The “Bonjour, la Patrie!” exhibition, named after one of his paintings, is another step along this path. Thanks to the impressive efforts of the Tretyakov Gallery in displaying Chagall's work so fully, visitors can now get a clear and informed idea of the oeuvre of one of the twentieth century's most outstanding masters.
President-Chairman of the Board OAO Vneshtorgbank
Jean-Michel Foray (left) and Meret Meyer (centre)
No words can express our enthusiasm, and the emotional state of mind that we feel today at the opening of the exhibition “Bonjour, la Patrie!”. We are over-excited indeed - we see the keen attention of the Russian public to the works displayed, as we become caught up in this special atmosphere, one full of rare moments of many miraculous discoveries.
But no one could imagine the feeling of excitement and complete happiness that our grandfather would have experienced had he been present here. And if we could fly in the skies above these roofs, striving further towards the heights, we could approach Chagall's excitement, one toned - no doubt - into bright, loud, live and poetic colours. All the more so, as he seemed to be - always - deeply impressed by the Russian public, and the way that they thoughtfully and attentively viewed, and keenly examined his paintings. He was greatly moved and touched by this.
When in 1973 our grandfather returned home from his trip to Russia - his first and his last meeting with his Motherland after his earlier, final departure - I remember him recollect this characteristic Russian intent look. He would not speak much, he simply kept silent for some time, then he would say: “Ah, that is exactly it!” And today we have the honour to come to understand much of what that particular “look” is.
It is like that genuine miracle, which in its silence emanates from the paintings collected together here.
The artist's granddaughter
It is not easy at all for me to take the floor after my sister, who was able to find really true words to express what we feel about being here in Moscow. Today, we express our sincere gratitude to everybody, and we think it is a great honour to be present here, and take part at the opening ceremony of this highly impressive exhibition of Marc Chagall.
I am most grateful to all of you for your coming here after so many years of patient expectation; you have come to enjoy again Chagall's paintings, and probably some of you have the chance to see these works for yourselves for the first time.
Our grandfather told us a great deal about his homeland, Russia, which he missed so much. He believed the only thing that he could do to help his country was to work, to paint. He wanted to share his pictures with his homeland, and pass his feeling of beauty and love on to his Motherland. There could have been nothing better for him than such a day as today.
He would work all the time: it was something of the greatest importance to him. As he put it himself, one can't manage anything without work. This was his way to struggle for his ideals. He used to ask us, his grandchildren, if we had found our love, if we had the ideals. When you are young, it is not easy to reach the core of this question. And only when I had grown up, could I understand what he had meant, could catch the message he wished us to receive. To paint pictures was a kind of a prayer for him, a way to comprehend his own self, to struggle for artistic freedom.
Thank you for coming to participate at the opening ceremony of this brilliant exhibition - one overwhelming in its sense of love, and one glorifying Chagall.
The artist's granddaughter