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Chagall: A Biography Hardcover – October 21, 2008

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Chagall: A Biography + Marc Chagall: My Life + Chagall: Love, War, and Exile (Jewish Museum)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037541455X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414558
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This thorough exploration of celebrated postmodernist painter Chagall begins with his 1887 birth in Vitebsk, a small Jewish town in Russia that he would repeatedly return to, both literally and artistically. He immigrated to Paris in 1911, where he soaked up Impressionism and identified immediately with Gauguin and Picasso's Cubism. Returning to Vitebsk in 1914, moments before the beginning of the Russian Revolution, Chagall was initially prized by the Bolsheviks, who wanted to put him in charge of the visual arts department in the Soviet education agency. Chagall declined, helping instead to establish the Vitebsk People's Art College, but the Bolshevik obsession with "peasant art" and the increasingly ominous political climate sent Chagall, along with his wife Thea and daughter Ida, back to Paris. Though the move proved to be Chagall's big break, the transformation of Vitebsk and general ruin of Russia weighed heavily on him. Chagall's life, talent and times are documented meticulously by biographer Wullschlager (author of 2001's Hans Christian Andersen), producing a complete portrait of an inspiring, complicated artist who merged French and Russian sensibilities, invoked "the concrete village disposition... of Vitebsk and the global cosmic one of Russian abstraction," and suffered as both victim and survivor of Fascism's first wave. 32 pages color illustrations, 155 b&w illustrations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Thanks in large part to her access to a formally closed cache of Chagall's letters and papers, now belonging to his granddaughter Meret Meyer Graber, Wullschlager offers a thorough, fair, and intriguing look at the life and work of an artist who never really left home, despite permanently leaving Russia in 1922. Wullschlager writes that he "transformed the cramped, dull backstreets of his childhood to a vision of beauty and harmony on canvas." Chagall, a paradoxical figure in modern art, never quite fit into a particular movement, as Wullschlager's detailed examination of his paintings shows. A few critics seemed to search hard for flaws, and what emerged was the book's length and, as the reviewer from the New York Times Book Review claimed, a rather too-complete exploration of Chagall's dreamlike works. This is an excellent biography.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Customer Reviews

A superb account of Chagalls life and work.
As I have said, I think the lay reader will easily take it in stride in view of the quality of the book.
This book should appeal greatly to art enthusiasts as well as those interested in modern history.
Ivor E. Zetler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By drkhimxz on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A fine biography, the best from the generation which did not know Chagall personally. To what extent the weakness of relying on the perceptions and judgments of others is offset by the objectivity of having had no contact positive or negative with the subject is a matter for experts on Chagall and historiographers, not the lay reader. Most should find this as detailed and objective-seeming as the lay reader needs. Her interweaving of social, psychological and aesthetic observations are quite satisfying.
To take up an issue raised by one of the previous reviewers, this is not meant to be a monograph with picture by picture analysis. One should look elsewhere for that. However, it may prove legitimately annoying, even to a reader with appropriate expectations, that so many pictures are discussed which either are omitted from the volume or appear distant from the text in which they are mentioned with no easy way to reference them while reading.
For me that was a minor annoyance since I do have volumes of his pictures; others may find it more frustrating. As I have said, I think the lay reader will easily take it in stride in view of the quality of the book.
I should add that some people may find disturbing even this discreet treatment of what life for an artist, actor, writer, in Russia and the later Soviet Union, could be like, for persons born of Jewish heritage, in the twentieth century, where discrimination, torture and murder were the order of the day, particularly in the era of the Russian Stalin and the German-Austrian Hitler. Yet without some such knowledge, the artistic responses of the survivors, like Chagall, can never be understood.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A splendid book. The portrayal of Chagall the man and of his family life are excellent, and the author has of course been helped by Chagall's own fascinating autobiographical writings. The interpretations of his paintings and etchings are very good - especially on the tension between and/or fusion of Russian and French, Jewish and Christian influences. The cultural and political background and how Chagall responded to them are very well described, particularly the artistic-cum-ideological struggle with Malevich on the one hand and socialist realism on the other during his years in the Soviet Union. We get vivid pictures of the Russian émigré communities in Berlin, Paris and New York. There is a good deal on what happened to other artists, especially Russian ones, during those terrible years.

The allocation of pages is about right also and reflects the importance of his art at various stages of his life: 245 pages on the 22 years - his most creative ones - of his career in pre-war Russia, his first stay in Paris, and his time in war-time and then Soviet Russia; 100 pages on the 21 years of his second stay in France; 50 pages on his seven years in the United States; and about 60 pages on his last 37 years back in Europe during which his art tended to be rather formulaic, with little that was new or creative. Wullschlager dates this deterioration to the death of Chagall's wife and muse Bella in 1944, who, in particular, represented his link with his Russian past; and in this last section she concentrates heavily and interestingly on Chagall's private life, devotes relatively little space to his paintings and then tends to comment on how inferior (though "enduringly popular") many of them were.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on December 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
People who enjoy the art created by Marc Chagall certainly will appreciate this fine biography. (However, it is neither an in-depth review of all his individual works of art nor, indeed, of his lasting place in the greater world of art history.)

The informed author, Jackie Wullschlager, helps the reader to understand Chagall by explaining his trying start in the backwater Russian town of Vitebsk, his deep Jewish heritage, and his darting amongst and away from the horrific European upheavals of the first half of the last century.

Ms.Wullschlager is especially informative about the four women who are vital to an understanding of Chagall's adult life: Bella, Virginia, Vava, and his daughter Ida.

Like many great artists, Chagall's family life and politics were often a mess. He was a flawed person. But his early paintings and late stained-glass windows remain, and they continue to speak for themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on April 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing story of not only a famous artist but also of a survivor. His achievement in art and his survivorship are feats for the time and place of his life. This author shows how the survivorship helped create the art.

Born on the wrong side of the tracks in the wrong side of the wrong country, Chagall was fortunate to attend school. One would have expected more family pressure on him to pursue a more practical career. He went to St. Petersburg to further his artistic studies, but as a Jew it was not a friendly city. Without residence papers he spent time in jail. He moved to Paris without money, back to Vitebsk to marry Bella at the dawn of the Revolution, then to Moscow after her parents' house was taken by the mobs. In Moscow friends and critics died by starvation, purge or suicidal depression. Chagall, Bella and daughter Ida moved to Germany then to France and then to the US. Each move was fraught with danger and peril.

The author shows Chagall as a product of his time, a Jew from the Pale who fled the revolution, a man of traditional ways. With elegantly written historical background, the book is like course in art appreciation. There are references to many known and some obscure painters and styles. Jackie Wullschlager describes the many color plates and black and whites as well as many paintings and drawings not included in the volume. . She gives the background on the art and the conditions under which it was created in a way the reader can understand. She gives a view of Chagall's feelings, values and interior life.

The photos of the young Chagall and Bella have the look of modernity, a look not often seen in vintage photos.
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