Marc Chagall’s Jewish Reality and His Jewish Imagination

Dec. 20 2018

From 1918 through 1922, three great avant-garde Russian artists—Marc Chagall, El Lissitzky, and Kazimir Malevich—worked together at a Soviet art academy in the city of Vitebsk. Two of them, Chagall and Lissitzky, were Jews; both had spent their childhoods in Vitebsk. Reviewing a current exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City of the works of all three, Shifra Sharlin explains how Chagall was influenced by an emerging, distinctively Jewish style of art, and how he broke with it:

Both Chagall and Lissitzky studied at Yehudah Pen’s art school [in Vitebsk], which opened in 1897, . . . where Yiddish was the language of instruction and no classes met on the Sabbath. Both participated in the ethnographic expedition, organized by [the ethnographer, revolutionary, and playwright] S. An-Sky, to record and collect remarkable examples of Jewish folk art in the Pale. . . . Both got as far away from Vitebsk as soon as they could. Lissitzky was nineteen when he arrived in Darmstadt to study. At twenty-three, Chagall moved to Paris.

Chagall’s early work, before he went to Paris, shows the distinct influence of Pen and An-Sky in his choice of subject matter. Pen encouraged his students to paint scenes from everyday Vitebsk life. [The poet Abram Efros] praised him for his eclecticism, for the way that he combined Jewish “tradition” and modernism.

[Eventually Chagall] left much of that behind. . . . In Chagall’s [later and better-known] paintings, the documentary specificity of Pen’s paintings, and of his own early work, is absent. Viewers could learn little from them about the actual Vitebsk. They could be misled into thinking that it was a shtetl and not a small city with a population of 100,000. . . . Chagall’s paintings neither preserve the details of which Yiddish newspapers Jewish artisans read, as Pen did, nor do they make use of the folk-art elements, as his own and Lissitzky’s earlier work do. And yet, . . . Chagall captured something that has come to be identified with the Jewish spirit.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish art, Marc Chagall, S. An-sky, Soviet Union


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria