“Chagall: The Breakthrough Years, 1911–1919 features more than 80 paintings and drawings from the early career of a unique artist, whose seemingly simple universe conceals a complex reality where opposing worlds intertwine.
Born in 1887 to a Hasidic Jewish family in the small town of Vitebsk, then under the control of the Russian czars, Marc Chagall grew up in a very confined world, where access to Russian culture and art was limited by his own community and the government policy of relegating Jews to ghettos and denying them basic rights. Even so, the young Marc Chagall soon made a break with convention, securing a place in a Russian school, studying art with Yehuda Pen in Vitebsk, and later moving to St. Petersburg, a major city which Jews could only enter with a special permit.
However, the decisive turning point for Marc Chagall came in 1911, when he moved to Paris and began a new life there. He worked in the French capital for three years, until May 1914, producing works that combined recollections of life in the Hasidic community of Vitebsk with the icons of the modern metropolis. Thus, reminiscences of Russian folk art intermingled with the most progressive stylistic experiments of Parisian avantgarde leaders like Pablo Picasso, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, and Jacques Lipchitz.
In 1914 Chagall returned home to attend his sister’s wedding and see his fiancée, Bella Rosenfeld, but the unexpected outbreak of World War I turned what was supposed to be a short visit into an eight-year confinement. At that point, the artist entered into a phase of intense soul-searching that is reflected in his works from this period, comprising self-portraits, everyday depictions of his family and community, drawings of the ravages of war, and images of the new Russia that emerged after the October Revolution.” — Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
“Art seems to me to be above all a state of soul.” — Marc Chagall
The Yellow Room (La chambre jaune), 1911. Oil on canvas, 84.2 x 112 cm. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Ernst and Hildy Beyeler Collection. Photo: Robert Bayer © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
The Cattle Dealer (Le marchand de bestiaux), 1912. Oil on canvas, 97.1 x 202.5 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel, purchase in 1950 with a contribution from Dr. h.c. Richard Doetsch-Benzinger, Inv. 2213 © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
Homage to Apollinaire (Hommage à Apollinaire), 1913. Oil, gold and silver powder on canvas, 200 x 189.5 cm. Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Photo: Peter Cox, Eindhoven, Países Bajos © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
The Flying Carriage (La calèche volante), 1913. Oil on canvas, 106.7 x 120.1 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, 49.1212 © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
Strawberries or Bella and Ida at the Table (Les fraises ou Bella et Ida à table), 1916. Oil on cardboard on canvas, 45.5 x 59.5 cm. Private Collection. Photo © Ewald Graber © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
Self-Portrait (Portrait de l’artiste), 1914. Oil on cardboard mounted on canvas, 50.5 x 38 cm. Im Obersteg Collection, permanent loan to the Kunstmuseum Basel, 2004,Inv. Im 1081 © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
Departure for War (Le départ pour la guerre), 1914.India ink and pencil on paper on Japan paper, 21.1 x 17.1 cm. Private Collection Photo © Ewald Graber © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
The Newspaper Vendor (Le marchand de journaux), 1914. Oil on carboard, 98 x 78.5 cm. Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Donation Ida Chagall, 1984, AM1984-121 © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
The clock (La Pendule), 1914. Gouache, oil, colored pencil on paper, 49 x 37 cm. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
Jew in Black and White (Le juif en noir et blanc), 1914. Oil on cardboard mounted on canvas, 101 x 80 cm. Im Obersteg Collection, permanent loan to the Kunstmuseum Basel, 2004,Inv. Im 1084 © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
Study for Music (Fourth panel for the State Jewish Chamber Theater, Moscow) [Étude pour La Musique (Quatrième panneau pour Le Théâtre d’art juif de Moscou)], 1917. Pencil and gouache on sketchbook page on Japan paper, 32 x 22 cm. Private Collection. Photo © Ewald Graber © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
Promenade (Promenade), 1917-18. Oil on canvas, 170 x 163.5 cm. State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg © Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018
Marc Chagall, c. 1910/1911 © Archives Marc et Ida Chagall
Exhibition is organized by the Kunstmuseum Basel in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, sponsored by Fundación BBVA, and curated by Lucía Agirre, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Images courtesy Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.