Marc Chagall was born Moishe Segal on July 7th, 1887 in Vitebsk, western Russia (today Belarus). His surname comes from the word segal, which means a leader of the levites, or chief servant of a synagogue. He was one of eight children of a fish trader and a saleswoman. At the time, some 20,000 Jews lived in Vitebsk and most of the city’s buildings, including many churches and synagogues, were made from wood.
Young Chagall learned in a cheder, and then undertook artistic studies in Petersburg. In 1910 he moved to Paris and became part of the bohème. He befriended artists such as Chaim Soutine, Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay, as well as writers such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars and Max Jacob. After the October Revolution, he briefly returned to Vitebsk and became a commissar of arts, but his art was soon rejected by the officials as too ‘bourgeois’. In 1941, a year after the fall of France, he managed to flee to New York. He returned to France in 1948.
Chagall’s works show links to the Cubist movement and Jewish culture. His paintings and drawings evoke the wonderful Vitebsk, which exists no more (most of the city was burned and destroyed during the war and today few original buildings exist). They also recall Russian fairy tales and Hassidic lore. Among his most famous works are The Fiddler (1913), A Praying Jew (1923), A Wedding (1944), A Circus Horse (1964). On the DELET portal we present photographs of the artist’s works from the Berlinka collection.
*Berlinka is an iconographic archive documenting the collection of the pre-war Jewish Museum in Berlin, operating from 1933 to 1938. Berlinka has 3000 cards with reproductions of works of art, images of famous figures, original graphics. Since 1951, the collection is stored in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
The project is carried out thanks to the funds provided by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage as part of the Digital Culture programme.