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Born in Vitebsk, Russia in 1887, Marc Chagall developed a distinctly unique artistic style that effected the development of early modernism in countless ways. Although one can oftentimes see the influences of cubist, expressionist, and surrealist styles, Chagall maintained a personal approach to his art that focuses on fantasy, romance and above all, nostalgia for his past. Chagall studied briefly with a local artist in Vitebsk, and in 1908 attended the Academy in St. Petersburg. In 1910 he went to Paris, where he would remain for a majority of his long life. There he met poets Max Jacob, Blaise Cendrars, and Andre Salmeon, as well as the painters Modigliani, Delaunay, La Fresnaye, and other Cubists and Independents.
The complexities of Chagall’s aesthetic are apt to be obscured somewhat by his whimsical, brilliantly colored subject matter. Although Chagall achieved a uniqueness of expression in his works, it is important to recognize the early and formative influence that Cubism had on this gifted Russian. The impact that cubist structure and spatial handling had on the artist is evident in his pieces I and My Village (1911) and Over Vitebsk (1916), both of which are in the New York Museum of Modern Art. After the second decade of the 20th century, however, cubist elements played a less apparent role in Chagall’s works, and his style became increasingly unique. In 1914, when Apollinaire introduced Chagall to the German publisher and art dealer Herwarth Walden in Berlin, the outcome was the launch of Chagall’s first one-man show in the same year. He later returned to Russia to marry, and after the Revolution of 1917 he was appointed Commissar of Fine Arts for Vitebsk, where he eventually founded an art school. In 1922 he designed murals for the Moscow Jewish Theater, and then left for Paris by way of Berlin, where his next task was making engravings to illustrate a book. Ambroise Vollard, also dealer to Pablo Picasso, gave Chagallist his first retrospective exhibition at the Barbazange-Hodebert in Paris in 1924.
During the mid 1920’s his style became increasingly romantic and devoted to fantastic narratives. The first lithography plates that Chagall did between 1922-23 (30 in all) were executed in crayon on lithographic paper. Chagall’s first New York show was in 1926, the same year that he created The Jewish Wedding (New York Museum of Art), a gouache and chalk composition that revealed yet another aspect of his Russian origin. In 1927 he undertook the illustration of La Fontaine’s Fables, completing 100 plates in 1930. In 1931 he traveled to Palestine and Syria to study themes for Biblical engravings, another of Vollard’s commissions.