He is less celebrated, though, for his paintings of another iconic figure who obsessed him throughout his career: Jesus.
Starting with a line drawing of the Crucifixion he made in 1908 while studying art in St. Petersburg, Chagall depicted Christ on the cross dozens of times. Some Chagall Christs resemble the Eastern Orthodox icons the artist knew from his childhood in Russia. Others don’t look like the Christ in churches anywhere: they wear Jewish prayer shawls in place of a loincloth, and sometimes Tefillin, the leather boxes Jews strap to their foreheads and arms.
These religiously ambiguous figures populate “Chagall: Love, War, and Exile,” a startling and provocative show opening September 15 at the Jewish Museum in New York.
The green fiddler is here, along with flying blue cows and other popular Chagall motifs. But the dreamscape is now a nightmare. Villages burn, the patriarchs weep, and fleeing Jews clutch their Torah scrolls and each other.
The somber nature of the show might surprise audiences used to a more cheerful version of Marc Chagall, infused with nostalgia and joy.
“I found this young woman quite by accident, as I was walking the London streets. I came upon a group of teenagers, and struck up a conversation. They took me into a cave, and then some kind of huge dancehall. I think it was on an island. It was getting late, and I needed to move on the next morning, so I didn’t stay very long.
But I isolated this girl to photograph, holding that kitten, which was probably a stray she had found on the street, and carrying that bedroll wrapped around her body. There was a great deal of mystery to her. I didn’t know where she had come from, and I didn’t get her name, but there was something about that face - the hopefulness, positivity and openness to life - it was the new face of Britain.
The picture was taken with a normal 50mm lens, with a wide aperture. I used the Ilford film, called HPS - hyper-sensitive film - which I loved, although it is probably no longer made. I loved that grainy texture; she has the feeling of a statue.
I still feel close to this picture. I wonder what that young girl is doing now. She must be lurking around London someplace, or she may not be alive, you never know.” (Guardian UK, 2007)
When I was a little girl, growing up in france, my mother worked sewing tapestries. Some of the tapestries were exported to America. The only problem was that many of the images on the tapestries were of naked people. My mother’s job was to cut out—the genitals of men and women and replace these parts with flowers so they could be sold to americans. My mother saved all the pictures of the genitials over the years, and one day she sewed them together as a quilt and then she gave the quilt to me. That’s the difference between French and American aesthetics.