Chagall: The Breakthrough Years 1911-1919

1 June–2 September 2018

Exhibition Overview

Marc Chagall, The Yellow Room

The exhibition Chagall. The Breakthrough Years, 1911–1919 delves into an essential period of the artist’s work, during which he gave birth to the style that would come to characterize his whole production. The show reveals the profound motivations that guided his art, the avantgarde movements that influenced him, and the crucial themes he developed throughout his career. It is an exploration of the origins of Chagall’s wholly personal and distinctive language and an immersion into the lyricism and underlying currents of his bright, colorful scenes; a voyage through his enigmatic and expressive universe, replete with creatures that are the product of his particular mythology, figures from tales and poetry, Jewish traditions and characters, flying lovers, in images like windows that open onto new horizons.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is pleased to present Chagall: The Breakthrough Years, 1911–1919, featuring more than 80 paintings and drawings from the early career of a unique artist, whose seemingly simple universe conceals a complex reality where opposing worlds intertwine. This exhibition has been organized by Kunstmuseum Basel in collaoration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and the presentation in Bilbao has been made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Fundación BBVA. Born in 1887 to a Hasidic Jewish family in the small town of Vitebsk, then under the control of the Russian czars, Marc Chagall grew up in a very confined world, where access to Russian culture and art was limited by his own community and the government policy of relegating Jews to ghettos and denying them basic rights. Even so, the young Marc Chagall soon made a break with convention, securing a place in a Russian school, studying art with Yehuda Pen in Vitebsk, and later moving to St. Petersburg, a major city which Jews could only enter with a special permit.

However, the decisive turning point for Marc Chagall came in 1911, when he moved to Paris and began a new life there. He worked in the French capital for three years, until May 1914, producing works that combined recollections of life in the Hasidic community of Vitebsk with the icons of the modern metropolis. Thus, reminiscences of Russian folk art intermingled with the most progressive stylistic experiments of Parisian avantgarde leaders like Pablo Picasso, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, and Jacques Lipchitz. In 1914 Chagall returned home to attend his sister’s wedding and see his fiancée, Bella Rosenfeld, but the unexpected outbreak of World War I turned what was supposed to be a short visit into an eight-year confinement. At that point, the artist entered into a phase of intense soul-searching that is reflected in his works from this period, comprising self-portraits, everyday depictions of his family and community, drawings of the ravages of war, and images of the new Russia that emerged after the October Revolution.

(Photo: Marc Chagall, The Yellow Room (La chambre jaune), 1911, Oil on canvas, 84.2 x 112 cm
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Ernst and Hildy Beyeler Collection Photo: Robert Bayer
© Marc Chagall, Vegap, Bilbao 2018)

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