Thursday, November 5, 2015


Having just returned from an inspiring lecture given by Christopher With, (a lecturer recently retired from the National Gallery of Art), in the Mitchell Gallery, my appreciation for Chagall’s long and successful survival, not only as a victim of world politics, but also as a pilgrim in a vastly changing art world, was enhanced significantly.

The Fish and the Fisherman, 1927
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) The Little Fish and the Fisherman, 1927. Etching
I was talking with our docents last week about how much easier it would be to talk about Chagall if he hadn’t lived so long! After all, in his lifetime (1887-1985), one could list the various “isms,” i.e. Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Modernism, etc. and apply the litany of influences in his near century career.  I ask (and visitors have asked me), “Where does Chagall fall in these movements?” The answer really is, “None of them.” Mr. With touched on that point briefly, as Chagall deliberately avoided style designation or alignment with any particular movement. His work certainly bears that evidence but, personally, I find a number of  Fauvist influences in the etchings included in our current exhibition.

The les Fauves, or “wild beasts” was a loose group of early twentieth-century artists led by Henri Matisse  and AndrĂ© Derain. Their works, influenced by Impressionism, use arbitrary colors over realistic ones, and representational, but free flowing shapes and contours. Though the Fauves’ flame was brief (1900-1910), its fire was powerful enough to enable  artists to think in possibilities beyond strict representational compositions and color. Some of these elements are evident in Chagall’s etchings as each continuous line finds a delicate contour to outline a face that might be recognizable, but also allows the flexibility to be a loose geometric shape integrated to the composition's particular and general details.

Seen in Chagall’s etching, The Little Fish and the Fisherman from La Fontaine’s "Fables," is a floating fish with the profile of the fisherman. In some ways the illustration seems child-like, but when one looks closely to the attention and dedication he has given to each line and shape, the composition is balanced between the variation in contrasts from light to dark, thick to thin line, and the seemingly carefree contour he has given the fish and fisherman. No explanation is needed about the work's content, but it is enhanced by the fable that accompanies the image. Further, Chagall makes no explanation, apology or judgment. Sometimes the simple message is the best one.

Come see for yourself! There are many events taking place throughout this exhibition which remains on view through December 17, 2015. See our website: