Within two days of his arrival in Paris, Chagall had visited the Salon des Indépendants and there he saw the work of a panoply of contemporary French artists, including the Fauves and the Cubists. Paintings by Derain, Léger, Matisse and Picasso hung alongside the vibrant Orphist paintings of Delaunay, who was to become the mentor of Paul Klee, August Macke and Chagall himself. Very soon the artist had moved into lodgings in the legendary block of studios known as La Rûche on the rue Vaugirard in Montparnasse, a building famed for its lively bohemian atmosphere and its cosmopolitan array of inhabitants. Chagall lodged in the room next to Modigliani, and Soutine also lived in the building during Chagall’s time there. The poets Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars and Canudo frequently visited the house, and in this milieu of spontaneity and rich cultural exchange, Chagall began his first period of painting in Paris.
Writing about the atmosphere in La Rûche at this time Chagall gives an evocative description: “The studio has not been cleaned for a week. Stretchers, eggshells, empty soup tins lie around in a mess…. On the floor reproductions of El Greco and Cézanne lie cheek by jowl with the remains of a herring, which I had cut in two, the head for the first day, the tail for the next, and – thank God – crusts of bread…. While in the Russian studios a slighted model can be heard sobbing, from the ateliers of the Italians comes the sound of guitars and singing, and from the Jews heated discussions. Meanwhile I am quite alone in my studio, working by my petrol lamp, surrounded by pictures painted not onto canvases, but rather onto tablecloths or my bedsheets or my shirts, which I have cut up. Two, three o’clock in the morning. The sky is blue – it is getting light. Somewhere they are slaughtering cattle, the cows are lowing, and I paint them” (quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Marc Chagall, 1887-1985, Cologne, 1998, p. 41).
In Nature morte, painted shortly after his arrival in Paris, an image of relative abundance is presented. A decorated jug, a blossoming potted plant and fruits in a bowl strain against the constraints of the canvas’s edges. The use of space in Nature morte shows the artist’s understanding of the principals of Cubism which currently enveloped the city of Paris.
Yet, Chagall as Simonetta Fraquelli writes: “did not share their [the Cubists] concerns for creating an alternative to the single point perspective of Western art. Just as he incorporated the flatness of Gauguin’s images or the heightened colours of Van Gogh, he employed Cubism’s formal and spatial procedures to develop his own personal narrative and expressive style. Cubism for him represented an artistic language for the expression of the world’s magic, the secret life of things, beyond mere functionality” (ibid, p. 16).
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