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Over Vitebsk

c. 1914
Marc Chagall, French (born Vitebsk, Russian Empire), 1887 - 1985
Over Vitebsk belongs to a large series of works that the artist began after his return to his hometown in June 1914, which take as their subject an over-life-size, elderly beggar floating above the snow-laden rooftops of Vitebsk. The painting plays on the Yiddish expression for a beggar moving from door to door, er geyt iber di hayzer, which translates as “he walks over the houses.” This whimsical turn of phrase allowed Chagall to transform an otherwise naturalistically rendered scene of Vitebsk in winter through the addition of a strange airborne character with a sack on his back, whose presence imbues the composition with a dreamlike otherworldliness....

Object Details
Gershon A. Fenster (b. c. 1895), Tulsa, Oklahoma, purchased from the artist in early 1938 [1]; his son, Louis Fenster (1919-1995), Tulsa, Oklahoma, until after September 1944 [2]; with Albert Duveen, New York; sold to Louis E. Stern, New York, after September 1944; bequest to PMA, 1963. 1. See copies of translated letters from Marc Chagall (actually written by his wife Bella) to Fenster, dated March 5 and May 10, 1938, regarding his acquisition of the painting (PMA Archives, Stern files). Fenster's first name is not given, but it can be assumed to be Gershon A. Fenster, a Jewish emigrant from Lithuania who settled in Tulsa, after whom the Gershon & Rebecca Fenster Museum of Jewish Art, founded in Tulsa in 1966, was named (now the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art), and who had a son named Louis.2. A copy of a letter from Albert Duveen to Louis Fenster (PMA archives, Louis E. Stern files), regarding the sale of the painting to Stern, mentions that Bella Chagall is no longer alive (she died in the U.S. on September 2, 1944), establishing the date after which Stern must have acquired the painting.

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