Moise Shagal was born on this date in 1887 in a small town outside of Vitebsk, Russia.
Vitebsk – now in Belarus – was half Jewish then, but still Jews were not allowed to study in Russian schools, so when Shagal got too old for the Hebrew elementary school, his mother bribed a teacher to let him into the high school. While there, Shagal saw a student drawing, a process that baffled him. There was no art in his home – the concept of art was completely outside his experience, but from that moment on, he was fascinated by it and ultimately determined to be an artist.
He got to St.Petersburg eventually – another place he wasn’t allowed to be – and studied with Leon Bakst. When Bakst went to Paris in 1910, Shagal followed. Once in Paris, he adapted immediately to the thriving artistic community. He became Marc Chagall, but his art was always deeply rooted in his family, his village and his Jewish heritage. He has been called the ‘quintessentially Jewish artist’ by many critics.
He returned to Russia in 1915 to marry his fiance, Bella, but got stuck there when WWI came along. In the ’20s, the Chagalls got back to Paris, but by 1940, the German occupation forced another move, so Marc and Bella fled to Marseilles, where they became two of the more than 2,000 artists and intellectuals smuggled to the US with the help of a small coterie of American critics and art lovers.
After the war, Chagall returned to France, this time to the Cote d’Azur. He lived not far from Matisse and Picasso and sometimes worked with them. He died there in 1985.
Picasso once told Francoise Gilot, ‘When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.’