Musée Marc Chagall

It was a day with the Russians.  First, the visit to the Cathedral and then a national museum housing a particular collection of Marc  Chagall’s paintings.

The museum is in the Cimiez district of Nice, a suburb with the Roman Arena and the Matisse museum, raised on a hill above the rest of the city.  An unassuming building, it was established in the mid-1950s at the behest of André Malraux who was also a prime mover in the establishing of the Fernand Leger Museum.

The paintings in this museum are Biblical.  A series of nine paintings, done between 1931 and the early 1950s, illustrate themes like Creation, Jacob wrestling with the Angel, Jacob’s Ladder, Moses receiving the Tablets, the Exodus from Egypt, Abraham and Isaac. Each of these works is 2.5 X 2.5 m. and displayed in a continuous  space that may be described as a generous zig-zag so that you view each work in isolation from the others.

The contents of what he did here is more gentle that his cubist work.  It is lovingly folklorish, illustrative rather than self-conscious compositions.  Often the images are symbolic, private and have to be teased out, but all are expressions of his deeply felt spirituality.  The images swirl and rise from violet depths, with swaths of brightness here and there, sometimes a crimson glowing.

There is a humanity here – the Angel that wrestles with Jacob simply touches the forehead of Jacob kneeling at his feet.  In three of the paintings – Jacob wrestling with the Angel, Moses receiving the Tablets and Abraham and Isaac –  there are crucifixion scenes in the background, unusual for his Jewish inheritance.  His compassionate worldview transcends the confines of his upbringing.

There is a small hall with work depicting motifs from The Song of Songs, dream-like images of marriage and one of them close to Peynet’s Les Amoureaux with the Eiffel Tower in the background.  Outside in a courtyard is a huge mosaic of the Signs of the Zodiac that he completed at the time of the Museum’s inauguration.

Perhaps the biding image for me will be, in the Creation, the Angel  that bears Adam as in a piéta…

On the wall of the museum they have a history of Chagall’s life.  One detail struck me:  a senior in the French government managed to persuade the Nazis, who had already arrested Chagall, that there would be no benefit in his deportation to the camps for them.  They had the grace, that once, to listen.

A fitting tribute was on one occasion paid to Chagall by Picasso and we bear in mind that Picasso had no feeling for religion. His words were, “That man has angels in his head.”

Will van der Walt ©

Vendredi 8 Juin 2012

Image Sources: Photos by Will


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