Marc Chagall

Born 1887. Died 1985.
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Works by Marc Chagall at Sotheby's

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Marc Chagall Biography

A Belorussian-born French painter, printmaker, and designer, Marc Chagall created a singularly poetic figurative oeuvre full of rich colors and dreamlike imagery – flying lovers, massive bouquets, melancholy clowns, fantastic animals, lonely fiddlers, and vibrant hearts – that made him one of the most popular early modern and Western artists of the 20th century.

Born Moishe Shagal on 7 July 1887, in Vitebsk, in the Russian Empire, Chagall grew up among a devout Jewish community. After learning the elements of drawing at a local school and studying painting at Zvantseva in St. Petersburg. He moved to Paris in 1910, befriending such audacious Expressionist and Cubist painters including Chaim Soutine, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Leger, Andre Lhote, and other members of the young avant-garde. Chagall’s own practice, however, also absorbed the rich hues of the Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and Fauvist paintings popular at the time. Responding to these stimuli, Chagall produced works such as I and the Village, 1911, The Fiddler, 1912, and Paris Through the Window, 1913, essentially establishing the whimsical and emotional vocabulary that would characterize his art of the next 60 years.

The development of his career and the vagaries of two World Wars forced Chagall to move repeatedly between France, Germany, and Russia while also spending time in the United States. While in North America, Chagall excelled beyond painting, designing sets and costumes for numerous performances by the American Ballet Theatre. Eventually returning to Paris, Chagall would continue to work in France alongside his two great loves: one, lasting more than 30 years, with Bella Rosenfeld, who appeared in myriad paintings from Birthday, 1915–23, to Around Her, 1945; the other, with Valentina Brodsky, who was featured in several of his later portraits. The artist died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence on the French Riviera, where he had settled with Brodsky.

Chagall’s six-panel stained-glass installation American Windows is permanently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago. Similarly, Chagall famously repainted the ceiling of Paris’s Palais Garnier for free, fulfilling the institution’s efforts to modernize. His works can also be found in the collections of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York. According to Sotheby’s Mei Moses, the average compound annual return for Chagall resold at auction between 2003 and 2017 was 6.8% and 85.0% of 294 such works increased in value.

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Artist Image: © The Estate of Marc Chagall / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 2018