Marc Chagall

Art on This Day

Russian-French artist Marc Chagall died on this day in 1985. Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century", though Chagall saw his work as "not the dream of one people but of all humanity".

Marc Chagall's poetic, figurative style made him one of most popular modern artists, while his long life and varied output made him one of the most internationally recognized. While many of his peers pursued ambitious experiments that led often to abstraction, Chagall's distinction lies in his steady faith in the power of figurative art, one that he maintained despite absorbing ideas from Fauvism and Cubism.

Born in Russia in 1887, Chagall moved to France in 1910 and became a prominent figure within the Ecole de Paris. Later he spent time in the United States and the Middle East, travels which reaffirmed his self-image as an archetypal "wandering Jew."

Before World War I, he travelled between Saint Petersburg, Paris and Berlin. During this period he created his own mixture and style of modern art based on his idea of Eastern European Jewish folk culture. He spent the wartime years in Soviet Belarus, becoming one of the country's most distinguished artists and a member of the modernist avant-garde.

In the 1920s, Chagall was claimed as a kindred spirit by the emerging Surrealists, and although he borrowed from them, he ultimately rejected their more conceptual subject matter. Nevertheless, a dream-like quality is characteristic of almost all of Chagall's work.

Another characteristic of Chagall's work during all stages of his life was his colours, which attracted and captured the viewer's attention. During his earlier years his range was limited by his emphasis on form and his pictures never gave the impression of painted drawings. "When Matisse dies," Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, "Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is"

On 28th March 1985 Chagall passed away at the age of 97, by now the last surviving of the original European masters of modern art. He was buried in Saint-Paul, in south eastern France.