Flavour of the South, 2013

Z_Title_ChagalMusée national Marc Chagall

Avenue du Docteur Ménard 06000 Nice

All the French resident art lover needs to know this year is that where’ ere you go you’ll find Chagall. At the Musée National Marc Chagall – well, yes the name is a giveaway – they celebrate its construction 40 years ago with an exhibition, Chagall et le livre. That’s on now till mid-Feb.

Chagall illustrated many books but preferred the Bible, rich in stories and central to his Jewish culture. He was born in 1887 in what was Russia or what is now Russia, can’t do geography; the important bit is that the Russians wouldn’t let the Hassidic Jews – like Chagall’s family – have a Russian education. Accordingly they created their own, based on the Cabala, requiring a thorough knowledge of Hebrew and the Bible. In his autobiography he writes that his mother subsequently bribed his way into high school when he was aged 13 and it was there that he saw a fellow student drawing. He’d never seen a man-made image before. He regarded this moment as epiphanous; on the advice of the fellow-student he went to the library and started copying other pictures. The rest, as they say, is history – enrolling in studios, discovering his own style, moving to St Petersburg, Paris when he was 23, triumphant expo in Berlin – back to Russia, October revolution and running an art school, more of the same in Moscow – and wrote My Life whilst waiting to get a visa to go back to France.

When back in La Belle, he was taken up by Vollard. Ambroise Vollard can be regarded quite justifiably as the founder of the commodification of art. He bought pictures and sold them at a profit. In the process he virtually created the artist mythos, causing them to be regarded as valuable, unique, special – he handled the works of Cezanne when no-one else wanted him, Renoir, who liked him, Picasso (who called him FiFi Voleur) Gaugin, Maillol, Derain and the rest. He was a publisher and collector too. He it was that commissioned Chagall to illustrate the Old Testament, a project incomplete in 1939 when he, Vollard, died in a car accident. The illustrations were finished in 1956, to much acclaim.
From Feb 22cnd till May 20th, The Musée National Marc Chagall will show Marc Chagall, D’une guerre l’autre, 60 designs, gouaches and collages presenting the revolutionary ideas of the artist. This links in with Marc Chagall entre guerre et paix, at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. Chagall and his wife had to flee the Nazis when France was occupied; thanks to the American Vice-Consul in Marseilles, who forged a visa for them, they escaped. Sadly Bella, the first wife, died of a viral infection in America. (There were to be two other wives – three, if you count the divorce and re-marriage of the last one.

Back in Nice from 15th June till 17th October you can see Devant le miroir, self-portraiture being one of his favorite themes (according to Maurice Fréchuret, director of the National Museums of the twentieth century in the Alpes-Maritimes.) He certainly crops up in a lot of his painting – the observer as part of the observed. Or maybe as the dreamer dreaming. At the same time as the self-portrait expo, Vence, (where Chagall lived for 16 years and is now buried), is hosting a retrospective of his life and times in photographs at the Musée de Saint-Paul.
To top it all the Chagall Museum will be exhibiting its new acquisition, La Route de La Cranberry Lake, for which they paid the doubtless preferential price of 800,000 euros.

If your pocket doesn’t run so deep, there’s a very decent Taschen book by Jacob Baal-Teshuva with their customarily excellent reproductions, published 2008. And here is a link to a You Tube video is narrated by James Mason – it is dated 1977 and a bit long but still a pleasure. Chagall is such a sweetie! Enjoy-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *