Chagall: Masters of Art

Image of Chagall: Masters of Art
Release Date: 
May 31, 2022
Reviewed by: 

As part of Prestel’s Masters of Art series, Chagall offers an introductory foundation to the life and works of Russian painter Marc Chagall (1887–1985). There is a surprising amount of information packed into this diminutive art history paperback, and the reader will get a good feel for Chagall’s background and style while enjoying beautiful reproductions of some of his most important works.

Chagall’s style is distinctive. Most people have seen his Green Violinist (1923) painting of a man with a green face and hand, wearing a purple coat, looking like a giant as he taps a tune on the rooftops overlooking a small rural town. At almost 80 x 42 inches, the canvas looms life size in its presence, yet it is still impressive in its 5 x 7 inch format. This painting is classic Chagall, combining personal motifs and love for his homeland folk traditions with the Cubism, Orphism, and Fauvism styles that were part of the artistic language of his avant-garde contemporaries including Picasso and Matisse and other artists that mulled around Ambroise Vollard’s art dealership in 1920s Paris.

The Green Violinist is just one of 40 or so images represented in Chagall’s The Works section. Other highlights include: The Cattle Dealer (1912), Self -Portrait with Seven Fingers (1913), The Birthday (1915), The Pinch of Snuff (1923), Lovers Among Lilacs (1930), Nude over Vitebsk (1933), White Crucifixion (1938), Commedia dell’Arte (1958), and finishes off with an example of his stained glass work with Crucifixion, choeur, baie centrale, All Saints’ Church, Tudeley, Kent, England (1967). These selections demonstrate the progression of Chagall’s oeuvre during the course of his over sixty years of artistic evolution.

Along with the artistic ebbs and flows of Chagall’s creative style, there is plenty of biographical material included here to get a feel for how Chagall’s life circumstances influenced his work. From his Jewish origins in poor and rural Vitebsk, to his first exile in Germany, to his second exile in the United States, to his adopted home country of France, the reader walks through Chagall’s life and relationships chronologically and pictorially. The Life section lays out Chagall’s life story, but The Works section takes his biography and incorporates it into the informative and interesting descriptions of each painting.

In Chagall, Schlenker puts out a well-rounded and manageable presentation of both the artist’s life and work. It’s a solid overview and a good reference to have on hand; the reader will feel the essence of Chagall shining through. If the rest of Prestel’s series is the same caliber as Chagall, this would make for a succinct and collectible set for a budding art historian.