Chagall’s Angel

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works;
if from the head, almost nothing.” Chagall


The Apparition of the Artist’s Family (1935-47) by Marc Chagall
Musée National d’ Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Picasso said he tried to unlearn sophisticated painting and paint like a child. He managed it sometimes.
Chagall too believed in the child. He was sure there was more art in the crude figures children scrawl than in the academic likenesses by skilled painters—art as he understood it, that is, which was a direct transmission of truth to the heart, skipping the head.

Of course no grown artist can skip the head, though many have tried. Chagall brought a genius’ fine sense of color and composition to the effort. He told himself that he would not only respect the errors or distorsions that occurred naturally to him while drawing, he would exploit them. He would do away with perspective unless it served him. Color he would apply as it made a beautiful canvas and “said” what it had to say anywhere it felt like it. A figure’s right hand may be green and its left hand red. The sky may be red and the earth blue. Since the world inside Chagall was not subject to gravity, what could be wrong with an upside-down figure or with a moon under a table? Why should he force himself to finish a figure if just half served his aim? And why specify? If it might as well be a cow as a goat, let it be both—or part rooster.

To Chagall realism seemed a dangerous tyrant. It easily made a slave of an artist who had to keep to the physical facts of the world, though perhaps his aim was never to show that objective world at all but rather his own INNER world of dreams and fantasies.

For him those were about his childhood and youth in Russia. Inside he was full of what happened then, when the world was new. His parents, his friends, the rabbis and the religious ceremonies of the poor Jewish community, the animals, the streets and wooden houses, the fiddler, the dancer, the clown.
He turned them into the poetic images of his pictures.

It seems, however, that he didn’t start with them but with color and abstract shapes. His companion Virginia Haggard wrote about how Chagall invented the sets for Stravinski’s Firebird:

“For days, Marc listened to the Firebird music…At once he began to float in Stravinski’s music, thoroughly tuned in to its powerful archaic rhythms. He started sketching feverishly, jotting down ideas, sometimes in color, sometimes in pencil. They were barely more than abstract shapes or colors, but they contained the living seeds out of which would grow birds, trees and monsters. He let them soak in pools of color until something started moving.”

from My Life with Chagall by Virginia Haggard

A wedding turned out to be the subject of this beautiful abstract painting.

The Wedding
Ida Chagall Collection


This entry was posted in aesthetics, art, art history, great artists, oil painting. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Chagall’s Angel

  1. erikatakacs says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Chagall. I started appreciating his art when I saw his beautiful stained glass paintings. Before that I never really cared for him. Nice post, Swallows.

  2. 100swallows says:

    Erika: Thanks. I wonder where you saw those stained-glass windows. I noticed while looking for one of his pictures to put in my post that many of the best ones are in private collections. Perhaps that’s why they are not so well known. Which ones did you see that you didn’t care for?

  3. erikatakacs says:

    In pollocksthebollock’s blog:

    I think most of them are from All Saints’ Church in Tudeley. Amazingly vibrant, rich colours. None appealed to me when I was young, but I find his art fascinating now. Go figure.

  4. Marc Chagall is steadily becoming one of my favorite artists. I think his work calms me and let’s me know that everything’s going to be ok. I am looking into investing in a chagall lithograph or chagall etching. If anyone knows another good place to buy a nice authentic, signed chagall for sale, i’m all ears.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. 100swallows says:

    Chagall for sale:
    No, I don’t know of another place that sells Chagalls.
    I was surprised to see how cheap some of the etchings at your site are and it makes me leery. I read that Dalí signed thousands of blank sheets of etching paper before he died, just for the money. Maybe that’s not true. Could Chagall have done the same? And the artistic quality of some of those is low, don’t you think? They look like his own easy imitations of his bad work. He certainly did potboilers. When he’s good, he’s very, very good; but when he’s bad….

  6. 100swallows says:

    Erika: Thanks for the link to the stained glass windows in Kent. Here’s a link to the beautiful ones in the Hadassah Hospital Synagogue of Jerusalem.
    They show the twelve sons of the Patriarch Jacob or the Twelve Tribes.

  7. ivdanu says:

    Interesting post (as always, but some are better than others…you seem in a excellence streak…) swallows!

    Both chagall and Picasso are right, to paint as a child (or, as Renoir said one, as a bird sings!) is the secret (?) of true art… Of course, you cannot totally eliminate (and why would you do that?) the head (for it has its good use)…

    As for Chagall for sale…I’ve remembered a book written by David Stein, a known (very talented) “faussaire” (forger?) of Cahgall, Picasso, Duffy, Van Dongen, etc. in which he tells the story of his falling down from grace (and subsequently legal problems) when Chagall saw in a New York (I thinK? or was it Paris?) art gallery window some superb “Chagalls” he didn’t remembered to have painted… He (Chagall) was so furious that he went immediately to the POlice and put an end to Stein’s carreer… seems that a lot of “false” Chagalls still circulates…

    And remember the rest room scene in peter sellers “The Party” when he manages to ruin a Chagall watercolor?

  8. 100swallows:
    Chagall lithographs range from $1,000 to $100,000 I’ve noticed. It usually depends on the amount printed, how nice it looks, condition, and, very importantly, if it was made during the artist’s lifetime. I agree with you that these prices are low, but according to them it is because they don’t have to inflate their prices since they don’t have typical retail gallery overhead. Here are some of my favorite chagall prints:

    Chagall etchings and lithographs without color are really boring, like you said.

    And I’ve heard that Dali is one of the most forged artists, so you have to be careful with him. I love his work, though. Hunting for fine art to invest in is quite entertaining!

  9. 100swallows says:

    Danu: Sounds like good reading, those confessions of David Stein’s. I was going to do a post on the most famous forger of Vermeer, and I still might. You must know of him.
    I’m glad you like my latest posts. Thanks for saying so. They are taking long to write.

  10. 100swallows says:

    Chagall for sale: I like the first two very much, and the third isn’t bad. Hunting for fine art to invest must be a lot of fun all right. I hope you have a good way to keep the works. I find that a problem. And if you simply put them away like jewels where they are safe and will not get dirty, then you rarely even look at them, which is a shame.

  11. ivette says:

    what happened with chagall’s dauther after he departed from ny. did she went back with him?

  12. 100swallows: I agree putting them away is a shame. According to some tax code, it gets counted differently if you stow it away and do not “derive pleasure” from it. I think that’s if you claim it to be a retirement investment or something. No, I plan on enjoying the art I own every day and hopefully others will enjoy it too.

    And yes, investing in art is definitely the most fun way to invest!! More people should consider it, especially these days with the economy taaaaaanking.

  13. Gerald Savage says:

    I own a painting by Chagall, I have had it for over 40 years. It is titled “After the Angels”. I am trying to find out how much it is worth, before it go on ebay.

  14. 100swallows says:

    Gerald: I can only refer you to the link “Chagall for sale” gives above.

  15. 100swallows, I would definitely recommend checking out these guys for its worth. I think they’ll want some close up pictures of it. Tell them you found them on a blog and you’re looking to sell.

    My only concern with that piece is that it’s titled “After the Angels”, and I know there’s some “The Angels” pieces. So it might mean it’s an “after” work, which I think means printed after the artist’s lifetime. But yeah, I’d give those guys a call. Couldn’t hurt.

  16. will says:

    I like this post, Swallows. Chagall is one of these few modern painters (such as Rothko) who touched me immediately (despite my reluctance vs. modern painting…) as soon as I saw two masterpieces of him: the stained glass of the Reims Cathedral and the ceiling of the Opera in Paris. In both cases I guess, the handling of colors are the jewels of his art.
    Picasso might have said he had sought for painting like a child :I don’t trust him.
    On the opposite, Chagall had never lost the key to genuine child’s soul in art. And combined with his genius, this ends up in pure beauty, at least in the two works I mention..
    Best Regards,

    • 100swallows says:

      Will: Some day I plan to make a pilgrimage to his museum in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. I’ve marvelled again and again at reproductions of some of the paintings there. I’ve seen only in reproductions the two that touched you, but now they are on my list too. Thanks.

Leave a Reply