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Статья: Marc Shagall

     Fiddler   on    the    roof    of     modernism
     Marc CHAGALL: 1887-1985
     “He grabs a church and paints with the church,” wrote a poet of the cubist
era, Blaise Cendarrs. “He grabs a cow and paints with the cow. He paints with
an oxtail (With all the dirty passion of a little Jewish town).” “Soutine?
Stangely enough, no: Marc Shagall.”
Cendrars’ rhapsody reminds one how different the late decades of that hugely
productive painter were from his early ones. One does not think of late
Chagall in terms of the “dirty passion” and “exacerbated sexuality” that
struck his (mostly Gentile) friends in modern painting’s golden age, Paris
before 1914.
Instead one thinks of an institutionalized, not to say industrialized,
sweetness: the Chagall of the blue, boneless angels, the muralist of Lincoln
Center and the fresco painter of the Paris Opera, the stationed-glass artist
who flooded interiors from the U. N. headquarters in New York City to Reims
Cathedral in France to the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in
Jerusalem with the soothing light of benign sentiment. His quasi-religious
imagery, modular and diffuse at the same time, would serve (with adjustments:
drop the flying cow, put in a menorah) to commemorate nearly anything, from
the Holocaust to the self-celebration of a bank. When he died at the age of
97 at his home near Nice, Chagall’s career had spanned more that
three—quarters of a century of unremittingly active artmaking.
He was seen by an immense constituency of collectors and museumgoers as an
artist of the 20th century. He had a lyric, flyaway, enraptured
imagination, allied to an enviable fluency of hand; the former could waken into
marzipan poignancy, the latter into routine charm. He left behind him an oeuvre
of paintings, drawings, prints, book illustrations, private and public art of
every kind, rivaling Picasso’s in size, if not always in variety or intensity.
The number of novice collectors who cut their milk teeth on a Shagall print
(Bella with bouquet, floating over the roofs, edition size 400, later moved to
the guest bedroom to make room for a large photorealist painting of motorcycle
handlebars) is beyond computation. Chagall may have given more people their
soft introduction to art dreams then any of his contemporaries. He was the
fiddler on the roof of modernism. If he sometimes paid his spiritual taxes in
folkloric sugar, it may not matter in the long run – for at Chagall’s death one
consults the paintings of his youth, whose wild eccentric beauty is indelible.
Chagall’s was a textbook case of the way some artists receive their subject
matter, their grammar of signs, in childhood. He was a child of the Russian
ghetto, born in the town of Vitebsk in 1887; his father was a herring packer,
his grandfather a cantorand kosher butcher, his uncle an amateur violinist.
The imagery of music and shtetl folklore, mingled with the face of his
childhood sweetheart (and further wife), Bella Rosenfeld, furnished the
unaltering ground of his work for 80 years, long after the close-knit and
weak little societies it represented had been incinerated by Hitler. “All the
little fences, the little cows and sheep looked to me as original, as
ingenuous and as eternal as the buildings in Giotto’s frescoes,” he
reminisced in the ‘20s.
He developed his wry and sweet visions in the two great forcing houses of
modernism between 1900 and 1925: Paris and Russia. As a student in St.
Petersburg up to 1910, he came under the wing of Diaghilev’s designer Leon
Bakst; an enlightened Jewish patron, Max Vinaver, sent him to Paris that
year. He took a studio in a rickety building near the slaughteryards and
found that his neighbors were Soutine, Legel and Modigliani. Back in Russia
by 1914, Chagall waited out World War I (and was plunged into the Revolution)
in the company of Tatlin, Malevich and Kandinsky.
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive” – especially for a young artist, eager
to absorb what this supreme moment of untainted modernism offered. In cubism,
he felt, the subject was “killed, cut to pieces and its form and surface
disguised.” Chagall did not want to go so far, but the flattening, reflection
and rotation of cubist form gave his early paintings their special radiance and
precision. In “Paris Through the Window”, 1913, we enter a rainbow world, all
prismatic light and jingling crystalline triangles. It is full of emblems of
stringent modernity: the Eiffel Tower, a parachutist. a train upside down but
still insouciantly chuffing. It owes a lot to his friend Robert Delaunay, who
made abstractions of Paris windows. But the picture is plucked back from the
analytic by its delicious strain of fantasy: a cat with a man’s head serenading
on the sill, a Janus head (Chagall himself, looking forward to modernism and
back to the village?) displaying a heart on his hand. He was unquestionably a
prince of tropes. “With Chagall alone,” said Andre Breton, leader of the
surrealists, “metaphor made its triumphant entry into modern painting.” And
though the procession that followed its entry had its tedious stretches,
involving some fairly shameless plucking on the heart-strings, the best of
Chagall remains indispensable to any nondoctrinaire reading of the art of the
20th century.