Exhibition offers an opportunity to admire more than 150 works by Marc Chagall

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Exhibition offers an opportunity to admire more than 150 works by Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall, Russian village, 1929. Oil on canvas, 73x92 cm. Private Collection, Swiss © Chagall, by SIAE 2018.

ASTI.- Asti welcomes the elegant and utopian world of Marc Chagall, with paintings, drawings, watercolours and etchings. It is a world full of wonder and amazement; artworks in which childhood memories, fairy tales, poetry, religion and war coexist; a universe of brightly coloured dreams, of intense hues bringing to life to landscapes populated by the characters – real or imaginary – that crowd the artist's imagination.

These are works that recreate a dreamlike universe of imagery, where it is difficult to identify the boundary between reality and dreams, the same world that Chagall depicts in his books of etchings.

With over 150 works in an exhibition divided into seven sections and curated by Dolores Durán Úcar, Palazzo Mazzetti welcomes Chagall. Colore e magia, an exhibition realized by the Fondazione Asti Musei, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Asti, the Region of Piedmont and the City of Asti, in collaboration with Gruppo Arthemisia and with the patronage of the Province of Asti.

Chagall. Colore and magia offers an extraordinary opportunity to admire more than one hundred and fifty works by Marc Chagall and retrace the painter's artistic journey from 1925 until his death. Additionally, the original arrangement of the route through the exhibition goes beyond a chronological presentation to offer a new interpretation of the artworks, allowing visitors to delve into the artist's main themes: the Russian traditions from his childhood, which he never left behind; the sense of the sacred and the profound religiosity reflected in those creations inspired by the Bible; his relationship with intellectuals and poets, represented here through the collection of his etchings translating texts of Jean Girardoux and other writers into images for the volume The Seven Deadly Sins; his interest in nature and animals and his reflections on human behaviour expressed in the etchings for the Fables; the world of the circus, which fascinated him since childhood with its bohemian atmosphere and his thirst for freedom; and, of course, love, which dominates his works and gave meaning to his art and his life.

Finally, we must note that the exhibition includes a few rarely exhibited masterpieces held in important private collections.

Following a chronological as well as thematic order, the exhibition describes the completely new and unique universe created by Chagall; a world of poetry, fantasy or dreams, where anything can happen and where memories from Chagall's youth blend with his innate sense of colour and with avant-garde geometry and decomposition of the forms.

He created his own difficult-to-classify personal style with elements of cubism, fauvism and orphism that cannot be traced back to any avant-garde movement.

Chagall's very original poetic language was born out of the union of the three cultures to which he belongs: Jewish culture (from whose visual tradition of ornate manuscripts he took the expressive, not prospective, sometimes mystical elements of his work); Russian culture (from which he took the popular lubok images as well as the religious icons); and Western culture (in which he assimilates tradition's greatest painters, from Rembrandt to the avant-garde artists with whom he frequently associated).

First section - Marc Chagall. Colore e magia
Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Belarus, in 1887. His childhood became essential in his work, as testified by his autobiography, My Life, originally written in Russian and published in Paris in 1931, translated by his wife, Bella Chagall. The book, illustrated by the artist himself, is full of childhood memories: family anecdotes, the first days of school, summers spent in Liozna and weekly visits to the synagogue, during which he sang and dreamed of becoming a violinist.

His childhood is also evoked in various paintings, including Russian Village, featured in this exhibition. Painted in France in 1929, the painting depicts a scene from Vitebsk, the town always present in the artist's thoughts and frequently in his works. The foreground of the canvas is occupied by two typical wooden buildings, one painted red and one blue, separated by a road that leads uphill, all three covered with snow. In the background stand the towers of a church, identified as the Cathedral of the Assumption. And, since anything is possible in Chagall's paintings, a sled pulled by a calf flies above the houses. The lead-coloured sky adds to the work's mysterious atmosphere.

Second section - Dreams, fables and beliefs
Chagall's painting celebrated his return to Paris. New encounters with old friends were moving and exciting. In his visits to L'Isle-Adam and to Brittany and Normandy, he rediscovered his sense of light and nature. In Montchauvet, he found the landscapes and the brightness of the French countryside. A pure and harmonious world, populated with fragrant bunches of colourful flowers and streaked through with the inspiration of dreams.

In 1927, Vollard, who was pleased with the success of the previous project – Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls – commissioned Chagall to illustrate the Fables by La Fontaine, which is featured in this exhibition.

The seventeenth-century writer La Fontaine is viewed as one of the most important authors of the genre and his Fables are considered a masterpiece of French literature.

In illustrating his fables, Chagall made use of Russian tradition, the icons and the lubki, which are colourful popular prints accompanied by a simple caption, traditionally used to teach and inform the populace and the illiterate.

The next project for this publisher and painter involved the Bible.

Before diving into the new project, Chagall took his family on a trip to Palestine. The pilgrimage to the Holy Land included a visit to the places that are part of the history of the chosen people. The eternal exile – the wandering Jew – rediscovered his roots, his homeland.

The etchings for the Bible reflect the artist's faith and vitality, the intense light of Palestine and the spiritual strength instilled in him by the experience of the trip. The work was done in two phases. The first, consisting of sixty-six prints, was completed between 1931 and 1939, before the work was interrupted by the sudden death of Ambroise Vollard. The second involved the Greek publisher, Tériade, who took over the project and brought it to completion in Paris in 1956, with the publication of two volumes of one hundred and five etchings.

However, the Bible was a constant source of inspiration for Chagall, a theme he returned to many times over the course of his career. The exhibition shows this with a series of hand-coloured engravings, as well as two gouaches En Route, l'Âne Rouge (On the Way, the Red Ass) and David et Goliath (David and Goliath).

The sacred text connected Chagall with his deepest roots, his childhood in the Jewish community of Vitebsk, his feelings of love and brotherhood.

Third section - A painter with the wings of a poet
After a period of profound apathy following the death of his beloved Bella, Chagall returned to France in 1948 with his new partner, Virginia McNeil.

He fell in love with the landscapes of Vence and purchased the home called La Colline. Here, in the south of France, a new light restored the artist's vitality and harmony. Chagall had found his new paradise.

His flower bouquets, always accompanied by a pair of lovers, explode with colour (Bouquet on a Red Background, Large Red Bouquet). Chagall returned to biblical themes, drawing on his profound spirituality, and recalled Exodus.

Clowns and acrobats reappeared on his canvases, references to circus days in Vitebsk, when the music and jugglers set Chagall dreaming of a life as a bohemian artist. And then there were the performances at Paris's Cirque d'Hiver, where the artist went with Ambroise Vollard to enjoy the magical world of animals, trapeze artists, lights and sequins. On those occasions, Chagall, in his seat in the audience, drew incessantly, as evidenced by the scene depicted in the gouache The Painter and the Acrobat, displayed in this exhibition.

The music, the bohemian atmosphere, the colours and the liveliness of the circus fascinated Chagall; he saw the spectacle as a metaphor for life. The 1967 gouache Le Clown (The Clown) depicts various animals and characters, the most evident being, of course, a clown. Chagall felt a certain tenderness for clowns, with their comic role in spite of what he imagined was a tragic life. In this work, the clown is holding a bouquet of flowers: he is in love.

To quote the artist himself, "For me, a circus is a magic show that appears and disappears like a world."

These works create a dreamlike universe of imagery, where it is difficult to identify the boundary between reality and dreams, the same world that Chagall depicts in his books of etchings.

Fourth section - Love challenges the force of gravity
Looking at the paintings of Chagall and his wife Bella, we think of the feeling of falling in love, of floating on air. These canvases are a vivid evocation of the intense emotional experience of being in love.

In Chagall's canvases we can see lovers kissing sweetly, under the shadow of a bouquet of lush, multi-coloured flowers on a warm sunny day, as in Le Rêve (The Dream).

In Les Amoureux à l'Âne Bleu (Lovers with Blue Donkey), two lovers are caressing in the moonlight: he is dressed, while she, her breasts bare, has abandoned herself in the arms of her beloved; both are protected by the blue donkey. The circus with its acrobats appear again in Le Coq Violet (The Purple Rooster). In this scene the bride gallops around the ring on an agile green steed while the harlequin offers her flowers, under the watchful eye of a purple rooster, which traditionally symbolized the strength of the sun and fire. Love and flowers are always together in the images that evoke paradise.

And, obviously, marriage as the fruit of love, the spiritual union of two souls, is a fundamental theme in Chagall's work, represented for example in Les Mariés et l'Ange (The Newlyweds and the Angel).

Fifth section - The Bible
The next project for this publisher and painter involved the Bible.

The sacred text connected Chagall with his deepest roots, his childhood in the Jewish community of Vitebsk, his feelings of love and brotherhood.

Sixth section - The seven deadly sins
In 1926 Marc Chagall published the collection of etchings and drypoints The Seven Deadly Sins. To illustrate the vices of mankind, he used an ironic but affectionate eye to depict life in his native village of Vitebsk, in Belarus. His self-mocking sense of humour is perfectly illustrated by the frontispiece for the collection: a witty self-portrait at his easel in the guise of Envy (or Desire), with the heads of the other six sins on top of his.

Seventh section - The Fables of La Fontaine
The seventeenth-century writer La Fontaine is viewed as one of the most important authors of the genre and his Fables are considered a masterpiece of French literature. Vollard commissioned Chagall to illustrate the work. Cows, pigs, frogs, foxes, roosters and ants... an enchanted world of imagery that is in every way a match for the French writer's texts. La Fontaine and Chagall had some things in common: their taste for popular traditions, reflection on human behaviour and a limitless imagination. This illustrated book creates a profound symbiosis between the theme, the text and the illustrations.

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