Marc Chagall – A Painter of Childhood

1 Mar

I have a childlike heart. (Sappho, Fragments)

Marc Chagall, I and the Village, 1911

Marc Chagall is the painter of childhood memories and dreams. It is hard to place his art into a specific art movement, or divide it into distinct phases. His paintings sometimes seem as if they all belong to one great psychedelic puzzle because they are connected with the same motifs that reappear again and again, regardless of the year the painting was made in. Harshness of poverty and ugliness of mud of Chagall’s little village of Vitebsk is magically transformed in his canvases into a mythical land of little cottages with cute small windows, streets where one can hear the melodies of the village fiddlers joyously dancing on roofs bathed in moonlight, vibrantly coloured cows, milkmaids and reapers, dark blue sky littered with stars is the only place where lovers find abode, love makes you feel like you’re flying into the clouds, and boyish crushes and dreams are whispered solely to the moon when the cows, roosters and hens are sleeping in silence. Innocence, cheerfulness, whimsicality, everything-is-possible mood pervades his canvases. It’s everyday reality, with its ugliness and banality, seen through pink glasses, similar to the worlds that Gabriel Garcia Márquez has created in his writings. Chagall uses paint instead of words, but portrays the similar fantasy world where colours transition softly one to another, like two cheeks touching tenderly, from white to red, blue to white, the transitions are as velvety soft as the border between dreams and reality is when one first opens one’s eyes in the morning and through tired flickering eyelashes sees rays of sunlight coming through the window.

Marc Chagall, Over the town, 1918

This is the world seen through the eyes of a gentle and dreamy boy whose great scope of imagination enabled him to escape the dreariness of his surroundings and to walk forever on the tightrope between the real world and the world of daydreams. Chagall is the Dreamer who took up painting, a Peter Pan amongst artists; a boy who refused to grow up and forever carried a light of childhood that shone through his kind blue eyes like a firefly shines in warm summer dusks in the mysterious corners of the garden. When Bella spoke of his eyes, she said they were strange, almond-shaped, and “blue as if they’d fallen straight out of the sky”. It’s that light from within and a stubborn faithfulness to the world of daydreams and memories of his little village that made his transcend the poverty, wars and ugliness of his own everyday reality. His tender love for Bella, his memories and childlike naivety and curiosity all fed into his art. In these poetic visions of his provincial desolation, logic makes no sense so you may throw it into the rubbish bin and you may do the same with the perspective and proportions. In “Over the Town”, Marc and Bella are flying over the picturesque village that looks as if it came out of a Russian fairy tale with wooden cottages and fences that stretch on and on, like rainbows, as the two are flying towards their castle on a cloud.

Marc Chagall, The Fiddler, 1912

Don’t you remember how beautiful it was to be a child and believe in everything? I honestly believed I would one day live in a castle and wear old-fashioned dresses, and that I could be everything I want. I also remember vividly how I slowly stopped believing and through tears came to a bitter realisation, which hurt like a bee sting, that the future is actually very limited and that I will probably never be as carefree again as I was that summer when I was ten and my afternoons were spent trying to find a four-leaf clover; a quest in which I happily succeeded once. These are my thoughts at the moment, and there is no answer because time cannot be returned, childhood cannot be relived, and also there are many beautiful things about now; the flowers, the meadows, the river, have not lost their charm for me after all those years.

I just remembered something that Anais Nin said in an interview from 1972; she referred to Baudelaire’s saying that in every one of us there is a man, a woman and a child. She said the child in us never dies but goes on making fantasies, in all of us, but most wouldn’t admit it. The artists are the ones who admit it, but it takes courage to share these fantasies and dreams with the world, serve them on a plate for all to see, expose oneself, only to potentially be ridiculed or judged. So, perhaps the key to nurturing and preserving the child inside is seeing Beauty everywhere around you, being excited and captivated by little things, and to believe – because children always believe, whether it’s in fairy tales or in themselves.

For more on Chagall’s art and his years in Paris, read this.


5 Responses to “Marc Chagall – A Painter of Childhood”

  1. elisabethm 1st Mar 2018 at 6:36 pm #

    Beautiful post! “Marc Chagall is the painter of childhood memories and dreams”. Yes, I remember The Fiddler, it is one of what I consider to be my old friends, one of my favourite paintings in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 1st Mar 2018 at 7:44 pm #

      Thank you for commenting and I am glad you like it! How sweet that The Fiddler is your old friend, would you be so kind and tell him hello from me next time you see him? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lautreamont 1st Mar 2018 at 6:40 pm #

    That was a good read on a freezing afternoon here in London. I especially enjoyed your link to Anais Nin. I watched a few of the vids of her talking about Lou Salome,Rilke,and her own experience with LSD.All of which I have an interest in.I remember reading Rilke when I was very young . The last line in the poem about his friend’s suicide stayed with me down the years”Who talks of victory- to endure is all” Actually I must re-read him especially the one about Orpheus Eurydice and Hermes.Fantastic spectral images in that poem as I remember.
    Your dreamlike childhood and brutal awakening was great! Searching for a four leaf clover and finding one,yeah! Please tell more. My own childhood was gothic,Kafkaesque,but having said that one of my earliest memories is being walked down the Kings Road by my nanny, with an egg whisk and various other kitchen utensils which I had somehow managed to tie around my waist with a piece of string.Apparently every time she tried to get it off I screamed blue murder.Best A

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 1st Mar 2018 at 7:43 pm #

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Anais Nin is amazing, though I still haven’t read about her experience with LSD. I love Rilke too, it’s nice to be reminded of him, his letters are so wise. That four-leaf clover is now sitting happily in its death, pressed in an old notebook with a date written next to it. Your childhood sounds like a material for a film by Guillermo del Toro, or at least a great source of inspiration for stories. You as a mischievous boy and a nanny, funny anecdote! Cheers 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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