A Documentary Narrative
by Benjamin Harshav
This book presents a new and comprehensive biography of one of the most prominent artists of the 20th century in dialogue with the events and ideologies of his time. It encompasses the 98 years of Chagall’s life (1887-1985) in Russia, France, the US, as well as Germany and Israel, his deep roots in folk culture, his personal relationships and loves, his involvement with the art of the Russian Revolution, with Surrealism, Communism, Zionism, Yiddish literature and the state of Israel. The book exposes the complex relationships between Chagall’s three cultural identities: Jewish-Russian-French. Indeed, it is a biography of the turbulent times of the 20th century and the transformations of a Jew in it, his meteoric rise from the “ghetto” of the Russian Pale of Settlement to the centers of modern culture. The book reveals Chagall’s endless curiosity, his forays in many directions beyond painting and drawing: public art, theater and ballet, stained glass windows in churches and synagogues, lithographs, etchings, and illustrations of literature and the Bible. We observe the intricate relations between Chagall’s life and consciousness and the impact of his life on the iconography of his art.The book provides an indispensable key to the understanding of Chagall’s often enigmatic art. Indeed, it is a contribution to the understanding of some of the central problems of Modern art, such as the question of originality, the interaction between the formal discoveries of the avant-garde and cultural or multi-cultural representation, and the relations between an artist’s art and his personal biography.