About Marc Chagall


Marc Chagall was born on July 7, 1887, near a small town in Russia called Vitebsk. The town earned its name through the fact that Chagall represented it in many of his paintings.
His parents were poor Jews. They had nine children of which Marc was the eldest. Father worked in a fish factory, mother had a small grocery shop.
It was on an early age that Marc felt the strong inclination to become a painter. Although before he got that wish, he wanted to be a poet. It seems no coincidence that he was later called: "the painter with wings of a poet". Or on occasion the other way around: "the poet with the wings of a painter".
In fact, Chagall also wrote quite a lot of poetry.


His inclination to be a painter was made so clear by him, that he succeeded in convincing his parents to send him to a school in that direction, which was quite remarkable in that time, given the material circumstances of the family.
This education did not bring him what he expected. It offered almost no room for creativity. In that respect a second school was somewhat more satisfying for him, although his wish to do his own style was still discouraged.


He did not find it until he went to Paris, with help from a Maecenas. Paris was the centre where everything in the world of painters happened in those days.
In his early Parisian days Chagall had trouble to get by and he painted on every material that was even remotely suitable for it. But with his first exhibition he immediately got great success and recognition.
This would only grow in the years following, also in other countries.


In 1914 he returned to Russia to marry his first love, Bella. Chagall would be staying there much longer that he originally planned, because the first World War broke out and after that the Russian revolution. After the revolution he thought a good time might come for Russia, so he stayed and became the head of an Academy for painters. The revolution did not bring what he had hoped for after all, so he returned to Paris in 1924, this time for good.


He was a painter all the way, painting was his life. And he worked with pleasure almost every day of his life.


In the 1920's Chagall was asked to illustrate a book. He chose "The Dead Souls" by Gogol and he made 96 etchings for this book. This was his first important series of graphic work. It was not edited until 1948, due to some problems with the editor.
But it meant the beginning of Chagall's real career as a graphic artist, because before this endeavour he had only done some etchings and lithographs. He became one of the famous artists of the twentieth century in this field.
It was also the start of quite a long series of books with original work: during his long life he would make more than 110 books illustrated by original lithographs and etchings. This was a way to reach many people and that is what he wanted.


This also explains why there are quite a lot of unsigned lithographs and etchings by Chagall: they are from these books.

Some important books:
  • the Fables of Fontaine (1952, 102 etchings)
  • Arabian Nights (1948, 12 coloured lithographs)
  • Illustrations for the Bible (1956, 16 coloured lithographs)
  • Lassaigne (1957, 15 coloured lithographs)
  • Drawings for the Bible (1960, 24 coloured lithographs)
  • Daphnis and Chloe (1961, 42 coloured lithographs)
  • The Story of the Exodus (1966, 24 coloured lithographs)
  • The Circus (1967, 38 coloured lithographs)
  • The Odyssey (1975, 43 coloured lithographs)
  • the Psalms of David (1979, 32 etchings).

Even if this had been all that Chagall has made in all his life, he would have been called very productive already.
But he made 1050 different lithographs, about 700 etchings, thousands of paintings, many splendid stained glass windows, tapestry, ceramics and quite a few monumental works, such as the ceiling of the Paris Opera.


The only time in his life that Chagall was not productive, was when his beloved wife Bella died, at the end of the second World War, during their stay in the United States.
He recovered when he met Virginia Haggard, with whom he had a relationship that lasted for seven years and with whom he had a second child, a son.


After they split up he met Valentine Brodsky, later called Vava, who became his second wife.


His inspiration reached new heights then and he made quite a lot of his important paintings, for instance all the paintings he made for the Museum of Biblical Message in Nice.


Chagall died in 1985, 97 years of age. On the last day of his life he finished his last lithograph.


The world lost a great artist, who luckily left a great oeuvre.


A great many people have been touched and inspired by his unique works of art.