( Originally Published 1955 )
Distinguished Russian-born painter of the School of Paris. Because of the natural fantasy of his style he has become known, among other things, as a pioneer in the Surrealist movement. The son of a poor Jewish fish-merchant, Chagall arrived in Paris in 1910 and settled down at The Beehive near the slaughterhouses. Between 1910 and 1914 he met among others, La Fresnaye, Delaunay and Modigliani, as well as a number of important poets. Chagall's painting during those pre-war years presents a combination of more or less Cubist form, the new antiCubist color ideas of such painters as Delaunay and La Fresnaye, and a highly developed and poetic imagination to which he was already giving free play. Thus, although he participated in the form experiments of his time and the attempt to "liberate" Cubism from its static quality and drabness of color, he added what has been called the possible-impossible component-the sense of the unexpected and the fantastic that was to appeal to the later Surrealists and make them point to Chagall as an ancestor. He was in Russia when World War I broke out and in 1917 was appointed Commissar of Fine Arts for his own province of Vitebsk. In 1919 he did a number of mural paintings for the lobby of the Jewish Theatre in Moscow, but by 1922 he had left Russia. Back in Paris, he did a series of illustrations for Gogol's Dead Souls in a Vollard edition of the book and moved on to his real fame. His style became broader and more decorative, always preserving the poetic and fantastic element but without the faceted forms of Cubism. For the latter he substituted one of the richest palettes in modern painting. with which he achieves not only the unpremeditated effects of the earlier works but a deeper poetry, a more universal quality that allies him to the figurative or representational Expressionists of our time.