Friday, June 25, 2010

Chagall and Germany

 Marc Chagall, Exodus, 1952

Chagall left Russia in 1922 and pursued his work in Berlin from May 1922 to October 1923 before he finally settled in Paris permanently at the end of 1923. His temporary stay in Berlin became decisive for his career as an artist because he could learn from Hermann Struck und Joseph Budko the art of woodcut and of etching. In Berlin he created under the patronage of  the art dealer Paul Cassirer his first etching series called “Mein Leben” (My Life). At the time, Berlin was a centre for Jewish artistic endeavours. Notable Jewish artists were pursuing their work there e.g. Jakob Steinhardt, Ludwig Meidner, El Lissitzky, Issachar Beer Ryback, and Jankel Adler, all whom Chagall knew personally. 

 Marc Chagall, The Pinch of Snuff, 1912

Chagall was a renowned painter of modern art, even and especially in Germany where notable museum directors such as Georg Swarzenski and Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub had purchased his pictures. Already in 1933 these purchases came to be the target of Nazi propaganda. In Mannheim at the exhibition “kulturbolschewistische Bilder” Chagall's famous painting “The Pinch of Snuff” (above) was pulled on a hand-cart through the streets and publicly jeered at together with a painting from Jankel Adler:

 Jankel Adler, Cléron, the Cat Creator, 1925

In 1938 all of Chagall's oil paintings and water-colour pictures were confiscated from the public collections. Four of these were on display at the exhibition of “Degenerate Art” (i.e. “Purim” from the Folkwang Museum Essen, “The Pinch of Snuff” from the Kunsthalle Mannheim, “ Winter” and “Men with Cow”, two water-colour paintings from the Städtische Galerie at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt). The confiscated works were later sold in Switzerland in exchange for foreign currencies. Today they are dispersed at notable museums throughout the world. Paintings that belonged to private collections shared about the same fate. For instance those that belonged to the vast private collection of Herwarth Walden. Today they are located in the U.S. and in Switzerland. 

Marc Chagall, Solitude, 1933

Chagall himself has made the beginning rule of tyranny in Germany an important theme in his paintings like in “Solitude” of 1933 (above) and “The Chute of Angels”, on which he worked from 1923 to 1947:

 Marc Chagall, The Chute of Angels, 1923-1947

Look at the clocks, it's ten past ten on both of them, close to midnight, and time is running out again:

 Marc Chagall, Clock, 1914

After Chagall heard of the pogroms during the Reichskristallnacht in 1938, he created a major work called “The White Crucifixion”, today in the Art Institute of Chicago:

Marc Chagall, White Crucifixion, 1938 

Chagall needs to flee France from the Germans in 1944. After his return from exile in the United States to Paris, as part of a memorial book dedicated to eighty-four Jewish artists who were killed by the Nazis in France, Chagall wrote a poem entitled "For the Slaughtered Artists: 1950":

I see them: trudging alone in rags,
barefoot on mute roads.
The brothers of Israels, Pissaro and
Modigliani, our brothers - pulled with ropes
by the sons of Dürer, Cranach
and Holbein - to death in the crematoria.

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