Picasso and Chagall

Picasso and Chagall, two of the greatest painters of the last century, were friends until a dinner at Chagall’s place in 1964. “When are you going back to Russia?” Picasso asked his host. They were both expatriots living in France. Chagall was Russian and Picasso was Spanish. “After you,” said Chagall with a smile. “I hear you are greatly loved there [Picasso was a Communist] but not your work. You try to make it there and I’ll wait and see how you do.”

Pablo Picasso in 1962 (public domain photo)


Picasso-1-768x990Jacqueline by Pablo Picasso (from Art Market Monitor, 1954)

Picasso didn’t like that answer much. It was after dinner, he was feeling his wine, and his guard was down. “I guess with you it’s a question of business,” he told Chagall. “You won’t go unless there’s money in it.”

Marc Chagall in 1941 (public domain photo by Carl Van Vechten)

Marc_Chagall,_1912,_Calvary_(Golgotha)_Christus_gewidmet,_oil_on_canvas,_174.6_x_192.4_cm,_Museum_of_Modern_Art,_New_YorkCalvary by Chagall, 1912 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)


Françoise Gilot, who was at the table, says Chagall grinned at that remark but burned inside ever after. That was the end of the friendship.

Both those Titans had severe commercial temptations in old age. Each suspected or believed the other was a sinner.

But what did they think of each other’s painting?
Picasso told Françoise: “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is. I’m not crazy about his roosters and asses and flying violinists, and all the folklore, but his canvases are really painted, not just thrown together. Some of the last things he’s done in Vence convince me that there’s never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has.”

And Chagall told her: “What a genius, that Picasso. It’s a pity he doesn’t paint.”

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14 Responses to Picasso and Chagall

  1. I will accept that these quotations are true but I have a real reaction to the exchanges. Ironically, Picasso became an icon of the bourgeois lifestyle – wealthy, showy, plenty of personal ego and a real success in one of the most bourgeois cities of a bourgeois time – yet he pays some lip service to communism. Communism at it’s very best might have been a great idea, but Russian style communism was certainly no friend to art – especially progressive contemporary art. Picasso is joking here with little practical understanding, but his usual egotistical posture. Chagall knew neither his nor Picasso’s works would have been accepted or exhibited in Russia at that time, except by risk of real persecution. There could never have been money in this hypothetical exhibition of work by Chagall or Picasso. But Picasso wants the jab, while he was hypocritically sopping up every possible commercial opportunity available. The later comment by Picasso would have to be seen as more his magnanimous admission that Chagall had some artworld status than an assessment of Chagall’s painting skills. And Chagall’s reply would be an ego-driven response to Picasso’s magnanimity. – – Yes, both real titans, very committed to their own personal visions and experiments. Yet, both insecure in their dubious positions. It’s a shame the conversation could not have reached it’s rational conclusion – that art is NOT just about the money, but that money is important. That this exchange cost a friendship might be seen more as ego versus amiability.

  2. 100swallows says:

    Thanks for these interesting comments, Brad. I’m glad those exchanges got a “real reaction” from you. “The later comment by Picasso would have to be seen as more his magnanimous admission that Chagall had some artworld status than an assessment of Chagall’s painting skills. And Chagall’s reply would be an ego-driven response to Picasso’s magnanimity”. I find this particularly good.

  3. enghtj55 says:

    I think that in general terms Picasso is not well liked, whereas Chagall is not well known. Do you think Picasso considered Chagall his equal in the art world? Who else could he have watched as a competitor? There are a dozen or so secondary names, but they all sound the same. Of course I must admit I rather like Andy Warhol. Even if that is not art, at least it is not far fetched.

  4. cantueso says:

    I think that Picasso is just a little vapid, sometimes or mostly, except when he draws, where he does not have to think either, but the drawings come off as if by legerdemain or as if he were God saying “Let there be a Quixote on his horse” and there was.

  5. summertime says:

    I think I agree with engt55, except that I do not like Andy Warhol, but I am also not quite sure whether he is the one who does these office decor faces.

  6. Jon says:

    Both are clearly very talented painters, there is an overlap into Cubism in which I feel that Picasso exceeds at. In many of his studies Picasso uses Cubism to display a three dimensional image in two dimensions, e.g. “Portrait of Dora Maar”; if you obscure part of the picture then either a profile or a 3/4 face is visible. The closest to this image I can think of by Chagall is “The Poet” but here his head is upside down!

    One of my favorite Picasso images is “Woman With Guitar” which has muted colours and straight lines.
    Compare this to “Adam and Eve” by Chagall which has very rich colour and more curves.

    To both of them, money is no longer of any importance! They have both given us images worthy of discussion.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Chagall and Picasso are both giants. Chagall did “his own thing” for nearly his entire career. His work in oil, etchings, lithographs, ceramics, stained glass, posters, gouaches, water color, and so on all are recognizable as Chagall. Picasso had many stages. I am surprised by all the different Picasso looks. He was many different artists. Chagall was essentially just Chagall. Chagall brought his vision to many subjects. Picasso had many visions.

  8. rabuccia says:

    L’ha ribloggato su daisuzokue ha commentato:
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  9. Pingback: Picasso and Chagall — The Best Artists | beatthefallacy

  10. ravelpatel says:

    -Where’s the ‘like’ button?? I laughed out loud at the remarks Chagall and Picasso made, to each other and to other people – thank you – and came to click your ‘like’ button!

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