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Marc Chagall (Jewish Encounters) [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Wilson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $19.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Part of the Jewish Encounter series

Novelist and critic Jonathan Wilson clears away the sentimental mists surrounding an artist whose career spanned two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, and the birth of the State of Israel. Marc Chagall’s work addresses these transforming events, but his ambivalence about his role as a Jewish artist adds an intriguing wrinkle to common assumptions about his life. Drawn to sacred subject matter, Chagall remains defiantly secular in outlook; determined to “narrate” the miraculous and tragic events of the Jewish past, he frequently chooses Jesus as a symbol of martyrdom and sacrifice.

Wilson brilliantly demonstrates how Marc Chagall’s life constitutes a grand canvas on which much of twentieth-century Jewish history is vividly portrayed. Chagall left Belorussia for Paris in 1910, at the dawn of modernism, looking back dreamily on the world he abandoned. After his marriage to Bella Rosenfeld in 1915, he moved to Petrograd, but eventually returned to Paris after a stint as a Soviet commissar for art. Fleeing Paris steps ahead of the Nazis, Chagall arrived in New York in 1941. Drawn to Israel, but not enough to live there, Chagall grappled endlessly with both a nostalgic attachment to a vanished past and the magnetic pull of an uninhibited secular present.

Wilson’s portrait of Chagall is altogether more historical, more political, and edgier than conventional wisdom would have us believe–showing us how Chagall is the emblematic Jewish artist of the twentieth century.

Visit for a virtual museum of Chagall images.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Born Moishe Shagal in 1887, the son of a poor Orthodox Jewish laborer drew lifelong inspiration from his native Vitebsk, Belorussia. Chagall became famous for painting explosively colorful rooftop fiddlers, airborne cows and lovers floating above onion-domed churches, and a tallith-wrapped crucified Jesus. A victim of anti-Semitism who was ambivalent about his role as a Jewish artist, Chagall adorned churches and synagogues with stained-glass windows and often chose Christ as his symbol of martyrdom when depicting Jewish tragedies. Chagall's road to fame is mapped out by Wilson: his exposure, as a St. Petersburg student, to Matisse's dazzling palette; feverishly productive early years in Paris, where he absorbed an array of artistic influences; his immersion in politics in postrevolution Vitebsk, where he founded an art school; his return to Paris, where the legendary Vollard became his art dealer; and his New York exile during the Holocaust, where his beloved wife, Bella, died (he lived on for four more decades). Wilson's critiques (particularly of Chagall's "slippery" identity and his work's supposed sentimentality) are familiar, and this is less a fresh biography than a synthesis of writings by Benjamin Harshav, Chagall and his intimates. But Wilson (A Palestine Affair) is an incisive, lively writer. Domestic photos are included, but the omission of color reproductions of Chagall's oeuvre in this entry in the Jewish Encounters series is frustrating. (Mar. 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Chagall's bewitching paintings of flying lovers, otherworldly cows, and enormous floating bouquets appear to be joyously romantic and exuberantly folkloric, but in fact they are poetic memorials to a doomed world. Chagall, a "master of color" who painted right up until his death at 97 in 1985, survived the brutal anti-Semitism of czarist and Soviet Russia, lost hundreds of paintings during World War I, and barely avoided the concentration camps when he fled Vichy France. Novelist Wilson, whose inventive way with words perfectly matches his subject's topsy-turvy visual lexicon, succeeds in illuminating in fresh and penetrating ways the mysteries and sorrows inherent in Chagall's complex work. He elucidates the influence of Hasidic mysticism, speculates about Chagall's chameleon-like personality and possible sexual ambiguity, eloquently articulates Chagall's "Orphic/Cubist" aesthetic, and revels in Chagall's best works. Wilson also cogently analyzes the Jewish painter's obsession with Christ and unsettling use of the Crucifixion as "an icon of Jewish suffering." Ultimately, Wilson portrays Chagall as an artist trapped between "apparently irreconcilable worlds that could only be unified in his work." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1693 KB
  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B009I9EIRA
  • Publisher: Schocken (April 15, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0026LTNKE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #814,163 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Icon of Modernism April 13, 2007
The reader turns the first page of this little book to see the 1929 oil on canvas painting, "Lovers" by Marc Chagall. The painting depicts a man and woman seated and embracing; the woman's head turned inward on the man's breast, while the man, an expression of calm and contentment, peers upward, watching a winged angel flying overhead, across a deep purple sky. The painting has the deep and rich signature colour of all Chagall's work, though lacks the intense emotional suffering and ambivalence that makes up so much of his oeuvre, however this painting evokes a mystical love, a true love which, in my opinion, expresses the relationship between the artist and his beautiful wife, Bella.

As part of the Jewish Encounter project, Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson is one contribution devoted to the promotion of Jewish literature, culture, and ideas. (One can find all these contributions here on Amazon.)

It can be observed that most of Chagall's work, according to the author, is an expression of his philosophy, his religious sensibility if you will, in the form of the "literalization of metaphors", deeply grounded in the mystical and symbolic Hasidic world and Yiddish folktales, which include in their writings the "repository of flying animals and miraculous events." (P. 13)

It is impossible to label Chagall's work as "Expressionism", but the representation of an acute imagination, coloured in fantasy, depicting highly charged religious symbols, including in several works, Christs Crucifixion in a variety of contexts. What I love about Chagall is the viewer is drawn into the work by its striking colour and busy subject matter and is compelled to study it, because the meaning of the painting must be discovered as it is not apparent on a superficial viewing.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Short Chagall October 28, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A nice short study of Marc Chagall's personal life (wives, children, and homes) and of his essential cultural roots including religious inspirations and conflicts. Chagall was fated to live a long life amidst a century of enormous social turmoil and with direct emotional ties to countries in the middle of the storms --- the USSR, France, U.S. and Israel.

Professor Wilson is a fine writer with an eye for the arresting detail. His book is a very good overview of the complex life of a great artist.

(Readers will have to refer to the Internet or art books for the actual paintings referred to in this text---unless happily they have already in person viewed the work of Marc Chagall.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars She loved Chagall and wasn't ashamed of that... May 24, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"She loved Chagall and wasn't ashamed of that. T. Carmi, 'In Memory of Leah Goldberg'"

This quote is at the very beginning of Jonathan Wilson's Ode to Chagall or so it seemed. Wilson presents the details of Chagall's long and productive life 1887 to 1985. He also raises many engaging questions about the artist and person Marc Chagall. He does not try to fully explain why Chagall remained ambivalent about his identity as a Jew, a Frenchman, a Russian and as a narcissistic artist in the 20th century.

Chagall's prodigious output often overshadows the occasional intimacy of some of his work. The constant disruptions in his life and losses provide some framework for viewing and appreciating his art.

A shtetl Jew who becomes a major 20th century artist who gained international recognition sounds like an oxymoron. The 2nd commandment which prohibited graven images did not impede Chagall's commitment to making art.

His subjects reflect his life's journey and his style combined many of the powerful trends of the 20th century.

Wilson shares the good, the great, the personal and the disappointing thoroughly without any specific judgments.

Chagall's art celebrates the experiences of a romanticized Shtetl, the beauty and joy of love and ladies, the powerfully destructive forces of WW I and II as well as the Russian revolution - some of his work touches the core of our humanity while much of it borders heavily on sentimentality.

All of this and much more is packed in this concise and very readable volume.

Worthwhile quotes;

If artists have one big job, it is to move what is inside to the outside, to reveal secrets, and in so doing to allow us to discover who we are.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story April 20, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a lifelong fan of Chagall's art, and this book about him, his life, and his remarkable talent is a fascinating story. Highly readable and bound to hold your attention.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Marc Chagall May 13, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This has made a fascinating artist even more interesting; and you can understand the impact of his life on his technique!
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