Chagall: Love and Exile
by Jackie Wullschlager,
Allen Lane 2008.
This book must rank as one of the best pieces of writing that I have come across for many a year…. And regular readers to my blog will know that I have a certain enthusiasm for books! It really is a remarkable volume, coming from a skilled pen and illuminating the life and work of this artist in the most wonderful of ways.
“When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who really understands what colour really is” said Picasso in the 1950s. So should we regard Chagall as a pi0neer of modern art? What lies behind it, how do we understand or explain or interpret it?
Wullschlager shows us in Chagall that there is a life of struggle, heartbreak, bitterness, lost love, exile and even the miracle of survival. It is as if the shape and colour of Chagall’s amazing art finds its root in the intense and haunting and theatrical life he lived across so many countries and continents. Wullschlager paints a picture of an ambitious man, who was anarchic, charming, suspicious, funny, conflicted, dependent and obsessive. I love the way that Chagall was endlessly learning and open to new things and his ability to produce works of extraordinary beauty and emotional depth.
We are taken through Chagall’s life very carefully and the author shares with us a number of letters which she has had access to. We learn of Chagall’s mentors and the series of apprenticeships that he underwent with key teachers and artists. The book is richly illustrated and even the most elementary reader is shown how to understand the symbolism of Chagall’s work and his Russian and Jewish culture and religious heritage.
This book is important to me because in 1991 I bought a Chagall lithograph in Paris – a beautiful, colourful representation of Sarah from the Old Testament. Over the decade I have added three more pictures in the series and these pictures, hanging in my living room, have given me an enormous amount of pleasure. I have always detected in the Chagall’s work a deep spirituality.
This is a truly wonderful book and I commend it as fundamentally important reading for anybody who wants to understand both the twentieth century and really what creativity means.
Here is another gift from the creative arm of this man –