One of the most successful artists of the twentieth century, Marc Chagall (1887–1985) came from a large devout Jewish family. He was a painter, printmaker, and designer who also created theater sets and costumes, murals, stained-glass windows, and tapestries. Chagall was born in the small Russian town of Vitebsk and studied art in St. Petersburg and Paris. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, he became Commissar for the Arts in Vitebsk and later stage designer for the Jewish State Theater in Moscow. In 1923, Chagall fled the Soviet Union and settled in France where he began working with the Parisian art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard. After commissioning Chagall to illustrate Nicolai Gogol’s Les Ames Mortes (Dead Souls) and Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables, Vollard asked the artist to begin a series of prints based on the Bible.
Chagall worked on the Bible series over a twenty-five year period, first painting the gouaches that served as models for the works while on a visit to Palestine in 1931. He completed sixty-six of the plates before Vollard’s death in 1939. After a brief period of imprisonment under the Vichy government, Chagall made his way to New York where he lived until the end of the war. The artist settled permanently in France in 1948, and returned to The Bible Series project four years later, finishing the project in 1956 (published in 1960).
In completing the series, Chagall chose to illustrate Biblical scenes that reflected the recent experience of the Jews in Europe. The later episodes of The Bible Series feature the Israelites’ escape from Egyptian slavery, struggles led by Joshua, Saul, David, and Solomon to establish a homeland for the Israelites, and the suffering and redemption of the Jews as told by the prophets Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.
All 24 of the full-color lithographs from Chagall's splendid 1960 Bible Suite are currently available at our gallery on 33 Newbury St.