Marc Chagall: Modern Master

The Landing Bookshelves have been rather quiet of late for one reason or another I’m afraid but I hope to shake off my dose of ‘Blogger’s Block’ as soon as possible. With a little bit of luck (as Alfred Doolittle once sang) normal service should resume shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a quick snapshot of a  new purchase for my TBR Pile...(!)

Chagall catalogue

Chagall exhibition catalogue

I went to visit the Marc Chagall (1887- 1985) exhibition at Tate Liverpool recently and indulged myself in a catalogue purchase with my birthday money afterwards. The last major Chagall exhibition held, which I also managed to visit, was Chagall: Love and the Stage at the Royal Academy in London, 1998.

I can still recall a feeling of being incredibly overwhelmed by the experience of looking at the paintings in the flesh as it were, that I had previously only seen in books. When I went on to study art history as a mature student later that year, I was able to choose Chagall as a topic in the assessment work for a couple of modules.

Not surprisingly I have yet to actually sit down and read my new catalogue properly but instead have been raptly gazing at the reproductions. One of my favourite paintings, The Promenade  (1917/18) depicting Chagall with his wife Bella floating in the air above him, is placed opposite the foreword. The rationale for this exhibition, according to the foreword, is to offer a reappraisal of Chagall’s work. This has  similarly also been essayed for Klimt, Picasso and Magritte in Tate Liverpool’s recent summer exhibitions.

The editors explain that the exhibition intends to represent Chagall ‘as a pioneering avant-gardist who responded to the initial problems and paradigms of abstraction with narrative elements, expressionist colour, nostalgia, fantasy and folklorist influences to create poetic and enduringly moving works.‘ Five essays by experts on Chagall’s work look these different aspects of his art, beginning with Simonetta Fraquelli on ‘Logic of the Illogical: Chagall’s Paintings 1911-1914’. The painting on the catalogue cover, I and the Village comes from this period; Chagall’s own particular view of the world is expressed in gorgeous colour in a brilliant composition.

Another essay in the catalogue explores Chagall’s influences from his Jewish heritage and his positioning of himself as a painter of a much wider world. Monica Bohm-Duchen (Marc Chagall: Russian Jew or citizen of the world?) discusses Chagall’s early life in Vitebsk, in a devout Hasidic household, his art studies in Russia and his eventual move to the cosmopolitan art world in Paris. Introducing her piece, Bohm-Duchen says that ‘an understanding of his complex relationship to his Russian-Jewish roots remains central to an understanding of his oeuvre’.

I look forward to settling down and reading these and the other essays in the book in the next few days. Chagall has featured in a previous blog post back in the #PoetryinJune series as the subject of an Alan Murphy poem. If you missed it first time round then do take a look at it.

More from the TBR Pile on the Landing Bookshelves soon. Drop me a line about your summer reading/activities if you have come across anything you’d like to share.

Back soon!

Alan Murphy on Marc Chagall

Catalogue for Marc Chagall exhibition

Spotlight on Chagall

The back story of today’s #PoetryinJune choice of Alan Murphy is that yesterday I heard from a friend about a major exhibition of Marc Chagall’s (1887-1985) work that has just moved to Tate Liverpool. The timing couldn’t be better as I usually go over to the UK on a summer visit. I realised with a vague sense of shock that it was as long ago as 1998 that I went to London to see ‘Chagall, Love and the Stage’ at the Royal Academy. It was a stunning experience so I am keen on fitting in a trip to Liverpool with our summer travel plans.

This then leads me to Alan Murphy, whom we first saw at one of the Mountains to Sea Festival events at the County Hall a couple of years ago. I bought his collection The Mona Lisa’s on our Fridge (2009) which the author kindly signed for my daughter. Apart from the title poem, the book also contains two other art related poems; one on Picasso and one on Chagall. I will just quote the first and last verses to give you an idea.

According to Marc Chagallbook cover of The Mona Lisa's on our Fridge

How does it rain if the rain runs upwards?
 -in the mind of Marc Chagall.
How can a bun turn into the sun?
 -by the power of Marc Chagall.
And when does a town recline on a cloud?
 -when its world is Marc Chagall’s.

So doff your hat but hold on to your head;
Just lose your logical limits instead,
And gamely greet green, orange and red
 -the music of Marc Chagall.

My 1998 exhibition guide says of Chagall’s Russian – Jewish background that ‘An intense belief in the supernatural and miracles was part of everyday life’ and this is expressed in his paintings. Alan Murphy’s poem beautifully translates Marc Chagall’s scenes into words and puts over the sheer delight and exuberance of the paintings where ‘gravity wanes and withers’ (2nd verse). If you had never seen a Chagall painting, this poem would be a great introduction as it conjures up the surreal world that you find in his art. Alan Murphy is an artist as well as a writer and I think that his engagement with art comes across in this poem in a way that children can appreciate. Adults (well me anyway) can enjoy the fun with art too; there’s a also great poem entitled Pablo Picasso in this collection which is fitting as he and Chagall were artistic rivals.

Alan Murphy is based in Co Waterford and has published a second volume of poetry for children Psychosilly in 2011.

I hope you’re having a good weekend so far. After today’s piece on Chagall, drop by tomorrow for a poem to commemorate Bloomsday.

Update August 2013:

I did actually get to see the Tate Liverpool exhibition this month and bought the catalogue which I have featured in a blog post on Chagall.