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Marc Chagall

May 12–July 21, 1985

From lovers levitated in bliss in The Birthday of 1915-25, to the glowing stage sets for the Ballet Aleko in 1942, to the profoundly spiritual series of stained glass windows of the 1960s, Marc Chagall's joy in creating shines triumphantly through his intensely human works. Throughout his life, Chagall (born in Vitebsk, Russia, in 1887) has returned to certain themes: the circus, lovers, and peasant life take their place beside somber images of suffering, war, and death. The personal, often autobiographical content of Chagall's paintings, which echo his Russian origins and respect for Jewish traditions and symbols, set him apart from the modern European artists he met in Paris in the 1910s. Yet his compositions are often almost as abstract as those of other 20th-century masters. The influences of the color of Fauvism, the fragmented dislocations of Cubism, and his contact with such avant-garde poets as Cendrars and Apollinarie, helped liberate Chagall from the concept of naturalism. He began to organize his images poetically, blending layers of reality and illusion. This exhibition provides an opportunity to reassess the work of an acknowledged master, the last living member of the remarkable generation of artists whose work began early in this century and shaped our concept of modern art. Some 200 painting and work in other media, chosen for their quality and significance in the artist's career, have been borrowed from public and private collections in the United States and Europe, and include generous loans from the artist and his family. The exhibition begins with a group of early works, painted in Russia, and includes several of the celebrated paintings created in Paris before World War I, which combine Russian imagery and Cubist structure with brilliant color. The imaginative fantasies in a broader style which Chagall invented in mid-life are shown, as well as less-known, more introspective work, designs for the ballet, and several paintings and stained glass maquettes devoted to the "Biblical message" that has preoccupied Chagall since the 1950s. The first major retrospective of Chagall's work to be mounted in this country in many decades, this exhibition emphasizes the profoundly Russian aspects of his approach both to style and content and explores the tragic side of his art which has often been overlooked.


Royal Academy of Arts, London
Philadelphia Museum of Art


Royal Academy of Arts, London
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Main Building


Bohen Foundation
The Pew Memorial Trust


Susan Compton

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