24.06.(6.07).1887, Vitebsk (now in Belarus) – 28.03.1985, St Paul de Vence, France
Painter, graphic artist, poet, book illustrator, set and costume designer, monumentalist sculptor, tapestry designer
Chagall was the son of Hassidic Jews, a fish seller and a grocery shop owner. In 1906 he studied at Yehuda Pen's School of Painting and Drawing, and in 1907 enrolled in class 3 of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts Drawing School in St Petersburg. In 1909 he met his future wife, Bella Rosenfeld, whose image appears throughout Chagall's work. In 1909 he studied with Léon Bakst in the school of E.N. Zvantseva. In 1911 he was given a stipend to go to Paris, where he studied at the La Palette Academy and the Grande Chaumière. In 1912 he took part in the Autumn Salon and the Salon des Indépendants, and showed his work at the World of Art (Mir iskusstvo), Donkey's Tail and Target exhibitions. In June 1914 he had his first solo exhibition at Der Sturm gallery in Berlin.
In summer 1914 Chagall returned to Russia. In 1915 he married Bella Rosenfeld. The outbreak of World War One prevented the couple from leaving for Paris. He joined the Jewish Society for the Encouragement of the Arts and took part in its exhibitions. In 1918 the first monograph dedicated to the artist was brought out by Helicon publishers with the assistance of the Shomir circle.
In the year after the Revolution, 1918, Chagall was appointed the Vitebsk Province Commissar for Arts. In 1919 he opened Vitebsk Art School, bringing in El Lissitzky and Malevich to teach in the school. After a conflict with Malevich, in 1920 he left the school and went to Moscow.
In 1920–1922, on the recommendation of Abram Efros, he started working at the Yiddish State Chamber Theatre of A. Granovsky and S. Mikhoels. He created a giant curtain and designed the entire theatre, as well as its first productions. In 1921 he taught drawing at the Jewish school for homeless children in Malakhovka. He was involved in organising the Moscow department of the Kultur-Lige. In summer 1922 he left for Berlin, then in 1923, at the invitation of A. Vollar, moved to Paris. In 1931 Chagall began work on illustrations to the Bible (completed in 1956), and also in 1931 he travelled to Egypt and Palestine. In 1937 he was given French citizenship.
In 1933 in Mannheim, works by Chagall were publicly burned. During the war, in 1941, at the invitation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he moved to the US, where he did the designs for performances by the American Ballet Theatre.
In 1944 Bella died suddenly, which for Chagall was a terrible blow. After an unsuccessful attempt at a second marriage, in 1947 he returned to Paris. The Museum of Modern Art hosted a large exhibition of his works, which was then shown in Europe's major museums. In 1952 he married Valentina Brodskaya. In 1957 he created stained glass panels for the cathedral in Metz, and in 1962 for the Hadassah hospital synagogue in Jerusalem. In 1964 De Gaulle commissioned him to paint the ceiling of the Grand Opera in Paris. In 1966 he created panels for New York's Metropolitan Opera. He took part in the 24th Venice Biennale (1948, Grand Prix).
In 1964 he moved to a house with a studio that had been specially built for him in Saint Paul de Vence in the south of France. In 1973, at the invitation of the USSR Ministry of Culture, he visited Moscow and Leningrad. The Tretyakov Gallery organised an exhibition of his works to coincide with his arrival.
He became an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1959) and a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur (1952, 1977 - Grand Croix). F.B.