From the Marc Chagall National Museum in Nice to the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, plunge into the mystical and colourful world of an unclassifiable artist, inspired by sacred writing and marked by the dark side of his era.
A unique and renowned artist
Who would have thought that Marc Chagall, born in 1887 into a modest Jewish family from Vitebsk, in the former Russian empire, would go on to become an icon of modern art? As a child, he was already fascinated by art and dreamed of travelling to Paris to join the city’s buzzing art milieu. His dream came true in 1910. In Paris, he discovered the era’s two primary artistic movements, Fauvism and Cubism. But Chagall was a free electron, refusing to adhere to any one school. Incorporating elements of surrealism, neo-primitivism (a Russian movement based on naive forms), his childhood Slavic landscapes, Jewish and Christian culture and dazzling colours, his work is quite simply in a class of its own, depicting the era and artist’s personal life alike. From his portrayals of the everyday life of persecuted Jewish communities in his birthplace Russia, to Paris and New York where he sought exile during WWII, Chagall finally died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1985 after gaining worldwide fame. Twelve years earlier, the Marc Chagall National Museum in Nice was inaugurated in his presence.
Chagall and the spiritual world
Genesis of the “Biblical Message”
Imagined by the architect André Hermant to lead visitors on a poetic voyage, the modern and functional Marc Chagall National Museum harbours the world’s largest public collection of works by Chagall, including his masterpiece “Biblical Message”, comprising 17 monumental canvasses. The story began in the early 1930s, when art dealer Ambroise Vollard commissioned a series of works from Chagall to illustrate the Bible, considered by the artist as “the greatest source of poetry of all time”. He drew his inspiration from accounts by prophets, patriarchs, kings and warriors. In this spectacular composition combining past and present, the persecution of Jesus is echoed by that of the Jews in Europe in the Forties. The series was completed in 1966 and Chagall donated his work to the State. It was at the origin of the creation of the Marc Chagall National Museum in Nice.
A multi-faceted artist
Playing with colour, matter and the imagination
A hymn to colour, Chagall’s work extends beyond painting. After setting up home in Vence, just after the end of WWII, he began experimenting with new techniques such as engraving, mosaics and stained glass. He created an extraordinarily powerful stained glass window for the museum that bears his name, once again inspired by the Bible: “The Creation of the World”. It bathes the Marc Chagall National Museum concert hall in a beautiful blue light. Another must-see work, “Prophet Elia” is a monumental mosaic resuming the multiple influences that forged the master’s artistic identity: the Bible, of course, together with the ancient decors of synagogues marked by Roman iconography and the artist’s own life. To illustrate the Gemini theme, Chagall, then 80 years old, depicted his two granddaughters.
Chagall and the Fondation Maeght
The tour continues
Your voyage into the world of Marc Chagall continues just a few kilometres from Nice at the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. A patron and collector, Aimé Maeght met Marc Chagall in 1947. In the words of the artist: “Ida Chagall took me to her father’s house, and in the studio I was amazed when I discovered the gouaches painted in the United States and Mexico(…). This meeting marked the beginning of our close and confident collaboration and a loyal friendship.” Maeght sold Chagall’s works throughout the globe. Later, when their Foundation was created, Marguerite and Aimé Maeght commissioned a large canvas from Chagall entitled “La Vie”, portraying the major events that marked his existence: his wedding, the birth of his daughter, his flight from Russia and exile in New York… The final furlong in this odyssey of many colours, “The Lovers” – a mosaic created by Chagall to adorn the Foundation’s facade – was dedicated to its founders.