“It is a magic word, circus, a
timeless dancing game of tears and smiles.” Since childhood, Chagall
had been fascinated by the circus and theatre. In the early 1920s
Chagall designed costumes, sets and murals that expressed Russia’s new
social, political and religious freedoms. In subsequent decades he
returned repeatedly to the theme of the circus for inspiration. “For
me, a circus is a magic show, disturbing, profound. I have always
looked upon clowns, acrobats and actors as beings with a tragic
humanity.” Yet Chagall’s circus animals and figures seem to mirror
life’s sorrows and its joys, as they float in a fantastical world of
colours that glow like stained glass"
Marc Chagall's involvement with
printmaking dates to 1922 and his return to Berlin after World War I.
In the course of trying to recover the paintings he had left behind
with Sturm Gallery's director Herwarth Walden in 1914, Walter
Feilchenfeldt, the director of the Cassirer Gallery, offered to
publish Chagall's then recently completed autobiography Mein Leiben
(My Life) to be illustrated with etchings. Although the book was never
published due to translation problems, a suite of 20 etchings was
created by the artist in the medium of dry-point etching depicting
scenes and figures in Chagall's newly evolved naïve-realistic style.
Chagall had never before been introduced to printmaking techniques and
became very enamored with them, trying his hand with woodcuts and
lithography, too. He felt that in these mediums his narrative flair
had found its proper expression. Chagall wrote in 1960, "Since I
started using a pencil, I have sought for this certain something that
could spread like a stream toward unknown and alluring shores." And
again, "When I held a lithographic stone or a copperplate in my hand I
thought I was touching a talisman. It seemed to me that I could put
all my joys and sorrows in it....Everything that touched my life
through the years, births, deaths, weddings, flowers, animals, birds,
the poor workers, my parents, lovers in the night, the biblical
prophets, on the street, at home, in the temple and in heaven. And as
I grew older, the tragedy of life within us and around us." It is in
this sense that Chagall did lithographs, and they have become the
stream that carries the message of his painting into the wide world.
Fortuitously, it was a printmaking commission that brought Chagall
back to Paris in 1923. The famous dealer and editor, Ambroise Vollard,
invited him to do some book illustrations and the artist requested the
book be the Russian author Gogol's the Dead Souls. So it was that
Chagall engraved 107 etchings on this theme in the course of only two
years. Although in style they are related to the Mein Leiben
dry-points, their technique is obviously more elaborate and refined.
Indicative of how the various creative mediums are related, the artist
found that in the process of developing engraved imagery to illustrate
Gogol he was able to revive his own Russian themes. As he had been
longing to surround himself with the paintings he had lost in the
course of WWI and his sojourn in Russia, he seized upon this
inspiration to reconstruct many of his earlier missing canvasses.
Other themes also evolved that were connected to his more recent
Moscow theatre and mural experience. After his return Chagall viewed
Paris and the French countryside with fresh eyes and this too was
reflected in his paintings. His colors, moderated by the special light
of Provence, became more delicate although still laid on richly and
spontaneously. He began to paint both the French landscape and floral
bouquets accompanied by loving couples, musicians and animals-often
depicted around the edges of the composition like poetic
interpolations. These themes would continue to pervade his mature work
through the end of his career....
Weinstein Gallery - James Healy
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Zaidan Gallery, 7881
Decarie Blvd. Suite 405, Montreal, Quebec, H4P2H2 Canada
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