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Day Dreaming with Chagall

Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Belorussia, Russian Empire [now in Belarus] in 1887 – the oldest of nine children. His father worked in a herring factory and his mother sold spices and herring out of a small shop in their home. As a child he studied drawing and painting and in 1910 he went to Paris and became an artist. Chagall often painted dreamlike scenes and many of the pictures he painted include memories from his childhood. In addition to paintings, Marc created stage sets, stained glass, murals and costumes, as well as illustrations for children’s’ books.

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About I and the Village

Written by Andrea Mulder-Slater, KinderArt®

Title: I and the Village
Artist: Marc Chagall
Date: 1911
Medium/Size: Oil on canvas, 6′ 3 5/8″ x 59 5/8″
Current Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

Points of Discussion:

“Chagall here relives the experiences of his childhood, experiences so important to him that his imagination shaped and reshaped them without ever getting rid of their memories.” 
~H. W. Janson

I and the Village is a “narrative self-portrait” featuring memories of Marc Chagall’s childhood in the town of Vitebsk, in Russia. The dreamy painting is ripe with images of the Russian landscape and symbols from folk stories.

The picture can be broken down into 5 distinct sections. The first at the top right includes a rendering of Chagall’s home town, with a church, a series of houses and two people. The woman and some of the houses in the village are upside down, further emphasizing the dreamlike quality of the work. Below that we see a green-faced man who some say is Chagall himself. At the bottom of the work, we see a hand holding a flowering branch. Next to that, an object which some say is a child’s bouncing ball — perhaps a plaything from Chagall’s earlier days. Finally, we see the image of a milkmaid layered atop the head of a lamb – a motif common to Chagall. (Cows, bulls and lambs figure in many of Chagall’s paintings as cosmic symbols).

The important thing to note about this picture is that is a reflection of Marc Chagall’s dreams and memories. Also relevant is the fact that many of Chagall’s pictures (including this one) have symbols that relate specifically to Jewish folklore.

Interesting to Note: 
I and the Village is one of Chagall’s earliest surviving works. In it, he ignored the laws of gravity. Objects are upside down, things appear to float and perspective is disregarded entirely. Instead, Chagall chose to focus on color, form and shape. The result is a very emotional work — a visual diary of Marc Chagall’s life.

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