Chagall: A Retrospective (from a New Perspective)

Chagall Paris Opera Garnier Ceiling 1965

For me, the exhibition started off ages before I went to see it. I had built up expectations about it for months, more precisely from the moment when my mum promised me to make it my Christmas present. Being the exhibition in Milan and having to share the present with my sister, the entire day was a gift, and the exhibition was a worthy gem within a beautiful trip.

The artist himself had always attracted me and, in a way, intimidated me. I looked at Chagall as the ‘uncomprehensible’ one, full of arcane symbols and weird landscape, where everything is upside down and nothing is settled or orderly arranged. The one thing I uncompromisedly loved were the colours, the harmony and liveliness achieved by his combinations, so unique and peculiar of his own style.

The exhibtion (‘Chagall, Una Retrospettiva’) is one of the most comprehensive ever curated, and is aimed at providing an insight into Chagall’s art, from his early works in his native town Vitebsk, to his trips to Paris, to the period of World War II, to his travels across Europe, to his final landing in Southern France. One thing that emerges clearly is the importance of his roots: the famous symbols that pervade his paintings (cockerel, goat, cow, violin, ladder, candle, donkey) come for the most part from his Hebrew background. For an artist who has travelled as he did, it was vital to preserve his origins, and remind himself where he came from, regardless of where he happened to be. As well as the most famous works, such as ‘The Birthday’ and ‘The Walk’ – incidentally magnificent – the exhibition surprised me with two most wonderful bits of Chagall’s art: the black and white scketches Chagall made for his autobiography in 1922-23 and the ceiling for the Opéra Garnier in Paris dated 1963. The former made me realise how much joy can be conveyed even in a couple of lines: nothing simpler, nothing more beautiful. The latter drew my attention to the public role of the artist, not so much in the ideas and values he can convey, but rather in the spectacularity his art can have, and the contribution he can give to society by simply bringing beauty in the realm of the arts. A special place in Chagall’s production was occupied by the theatre, which for him was a place in which to experience freedom and the liberation of our visionary self. And with his art, he manages to promote this brilliantly. Moreover, Chagall was an experimenter, and tried an incredible variety of means, including textiles, glass, collage, which of course I had no idea about, but stroke me as incredibly consistent with his personality: always trying new media, always looking for something higher. Finally, what emerges from his works is the underlying conviction that life is beautiful, afterall; even in the saddest happenings of his life, such as the loss of his beloved wife Bella, couldn’t wipe off the inner joy from his way of looking at life, which is always portrayed as a dream, a vision, a pleasant journey, a time in which to dwell in sweet memories and enjoy the presence of our dear ones.

It is always nice to go to an exhibition and acquire a new perspective on an artist one *thought* to know.

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