Los Angeles

Marc Chagall

Art Center, La Jolla

Mr. Donald Brewer of the Art Center in La Jolla has worked, on and off, for two years to assemble this exhibition. The last major Chagall show was in Pasa­dena in 1957, to commemorate the then-70 year old painter. In 1959, the largest Chagall show ever was held at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris where there were some 350 paintings and about 50 graphic works on display. The unity of visual, as well as intellectual concept, was overwhelming, then as it is now. The Violinist (1911–14), The Birthday (1915–23), The Auto­biography (1933), The White Cruci­fixion (1938), have made their way from Paris to La Jolla. Another Cruci­fixion, quite similar to this one, had been one of the drawing cards at the exhibit “Degenerate Art” which was held in Munich in 1937, from where it and many of its splendid co-exhibitors found their way to this country.

As the show in La Jolla impresses upon the gallery visitor, Chagall is al­ways, supremely, himself. He has been called a surrealist, a romanticist, an ex­pressionist, and there is a truth in each of these appellations. The German Ex­pressionists influenced his graphic work considerably. The Berlin etcher, Her­mann Struck, assisted him in editing his first major graphic work, My Life, in 1922. Then followed an illustration of La Fontaine’s Fables from which there are 10 fine etchings on display. His last illustrations of The Bible are shown through some good color litho­graphs and etchings. Dream and reality fuse, “surrealistically,” as in The Blue Violinist whose chair floats above the roofs of the town. The Lovers in Flowers are romantic, not only in con­tent but in color. Cézanne, Manet, and Matisse influenced him when he first came to Paris in 1910. As Chagall said: “This revolution of the eye, this rotation of color, I have never seen in my vil­lage.” His Russian teacher, Leon Bask, had taught him a more 19th-century palette in Saint Petersburg, too. “It is not the so-called real color, nor the con­ventional color, which truly tint the ob­ject” he writes in his Impressions of French Painting. But he fashions the clear, clean colors, the strong blues, greens and reds to be entirely his own.

Throughout his life Chagall has used the symbols, the people and architecture of his Russian background. His Hassidic past has also been his present. Reality and fantasy are blurred and dreams show feelings as if they were tangible things. Chickens, horses, floating peopie, flowers, cows on the roof, lovers embracing upside down, stately faces of old men, circus people, always form the visual subject-matter of his paintings. His acceptance of life, its joys and sor­rows, his gentleness and his warmth, form the emotional content of his life’s work. “Art is some form of mission and one must not fear this ancient word.” The 75 year old painter has been true to his credo.

Chagall’s work is larger than the 113 fine examples in the present show con­vey; it includes ceramics, sculpture, stained glass windows, theatre designs. But these gouaches, oils, watercolors and drawings are of first rate quality, and they are a treat to those of us who love a great man. 

Irma E. Desenberg