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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Exhibitions - Chagall - Modern Master - Tate Liverpool

Star rating - 7/10

The major new exhibition at Tate Liverpool takes a look at the work of Marc Chagall, who combined influences from his Russian Jewish heritage, with the modernist style, to produce a distinctive body of work. This exhibition focuses specifically on the period before and after the First World War, when his experiences of Parisian culture, and the fervour of the Russian revolution,  were reflected in his paintings.

One of the most striking features of his work, like that of Matisse, is his use of bold, vibrant colours, for which Picasso was a great admirer. I and the Village, painted in 1911 and usually hanging in New York's Museum of Modern Art, is a spectacular example of this, with its interlocking dreamlike visions on a large canvass in vivid colours. And Paris through the Window from 1913, from the Guggenheim Museum, New York is another huge piece crowded with emblems of modern Paris which to Chagall represented artistic and personal freedom.

Following the outbreak of war Chagall returned to his native Russia, to his native town of Vitebsk, now part of Belarus, and his works from this period show the bleak and drab conditions, in stark contrast to the glamour of the French capital at the time. The Grey House from 1917 is a great example with its poverty and lack of any vibrancy. Over Vitebsk from 1922 shows a snowy scene with huge man floating above the village like a dark cloud. 

Cubism is a clear influence on Chagall's work, but he puts a different twist on it as he was 'seeking liberation' rather than the usual realism associated with the genre. Some of his paintings are also more naturalistic, like the lovely  The Strawberries from 1916, which shows his wife and daughter sitting at the table with bright crimson fruit and a matching coloured dress.

He also did a lot of work for the theatre, and one room shows some great vast, dreamy  murals he created for the State Jewish Chamber Theatre in Moscow, before he left Russia again in 1922.

Chagall continued as a prolific and celebrated artist up to his death as recently as 1985. So this exhibition is really just a small taster of his work, but within its limited confines of a short period of his artistic life, it is really very interesting, and his use of colour very bold and striking.

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