All the things this artist suffered were war and politics. He was an ordinary painter who wanted to dream, pursue love, and lead a stable and happy life. For him, he had to paint a picture in danger, riding the big waves of his life, such as the two wars, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Nazi rule. This artist was the realist Marc Chagall, who painted a visionary.
He was born in modern-day Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire, was of Belarusian Jewish origin. In 1906, he moved to Saint Petersburg which was then the capital of the Russian Empire and the center of the country's artistic life with its art schools with discrimination. At that time, in Russia, especially rural Jews, they were always discriminated against as second-class citizens. Since Jews were not permitted into the city without an internal passport, he managed to get a temporary passport from a friend. He enrolled in a prestigious art school and studied there for two years.
In 1910 Marc Chagall relocated to Paris, the heart of the arts at the time. Arriving in Paris, Chagall was able to see with his own eyes the paintings of the masters he admired such as Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, and Matisse. He must have loved painting and art and had to learn painting in a repressed atmosphere, but how happy would he have been when he arrived in Paris, where art and freedom exist and saw the paintings of Impressionist painters? He made Paris his second hometown and even changed his name to French.
However, Paris at that time was a place dominated by Cubism centered on Picasso, the founder of Cubism. Although beautiful and dreamy, Chagall's paintings, which were closer to poetry rather than paintings, were not recognized as a single unique style of painting.
He mostly hangs out with his poets, nostalgia for his hometown, his views of love into his work. During his time in Paris, Chagall was constantly reminded of his home in Vitebsk.
During this period, Chagall still met and interacted with many painters in the city of art, married Bella, the woman he loved, and seemed to continue a happy life. However, the border was closed due to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. It was a moment when a dark cloud fell on Chagall's life, which had worked out so well.
After marrying his fiancee Bella in Russia, he thought he would be able to return to Paris, but World War I forced him to stay in Russia. Then, in 1917, the world's first communist revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, took place in Russia. The communist revolution first abolished the policy of discrimination against minorities. At this time, Chagall rose to the position of head of the Vitebsk Art School, and in his hopes he tried to make his hometown an art city like Paris. However, his painting and artistic activities were suppressed because he did not paint pictures that glorified the communist revolution. He fled Russia with his wife Bella in 1922 and returned to Paris. But at that time Paris was under the control of Nazi Hitler. Jew Chagall was more and more persecuted, and for resistance, he was awarded the White Crucifixion.
The White Crucifixion emphasizes the suffering of Jesus and the Jewish people. Indirectly, it symbolizes the Jews suffering under Nazi rule. At the sides violent acts against Jews occur such as the burning of a synagogue and invaders. And in the center, Jesus is shown crucified wearing a prayer shawl as a symbol that he is Jewish.
However, Chagall, who had resisted this aggressively, could not withstand the growing oppression of the Jews and left for the United States with his wife and daughter. At that time, there were many European artists who fled from the Nazis, like Chagall, in America. The United States quickly became the center of modern art. Artists reached their heyday, creating something again in America, the land of opportunity.
Unfortunately, however, Chagall did not pick up a brush for a long time, despite being at the center of this second heyday of art. This is because Bella, the wife he loved most and shared with him the hardships of his life, died of acute hepatitis. Perhaps that's why the paintings of that time look somewhat gloomy and sad compared to his fantastic and hopeful messages seen even in the previous war.
In the end, however, he overcame the grief of letting Bella go through painting and art. He found meaning in sorrow and pain, and his work deepened even more. By this time he had also gained a reputation as an artist. He returned to his second hometown, Paris, to end his long wandering life. He is hailed as a virtuoso in the art world and even watched his work hang at the Louvre Museum. In 1973 he was also able to set foot on the Russian soil, his hometown, to which it seemed he would never be able to return.
His life, which had been destroyed by the ruins of war and ideological conflict, was ultimately saved through art. He always saw love as if in a dream, even in a desperate situation, and he carefully said that in that love is our answer.
As the war in Ukraine escalates, we often see warm news. Seeing the Ukrainians comforting hungry Russian soldiers by handing them hot tea and bread, I think that this is the kind of love Chagall wanted. It may sound clichéd, but love that understands and cares for each other has the power to stop the conflicts of war and truly help us keep going.
Myungja Anna Koh