Chasing Chagall’s Legacy in France

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Stained-glass windows in the axial chapel of Reims Cathedral in France, designed by Marc Chagall and made by Charles Marq in 1974.
Stained-glass windows in the axial chapel of Reims Cathedral in France, designed by Marc Chagall and made by Charles Marq in 1974.

JNS.org

The abundance of Marc Chagall’s work in New York City, where I live, inspired me to see more of his genius abroad. So I headed to France on my very own Chagall trail.

Here in New York, Chagall’s work is readily accessible at the Metropolitan Opera House, the Museum of Modern Art, and at galleries and the Jewish Museum, where the exhibit "Chagall: Love, War and Exile," opens in September.

Energized by all of this, I organized a Chagall-centric itinerary from Paris to Nice.

Art historians label the Belarus-born artist’s work Cubism, Symbolism and Fauvism; some speak of Expressionism. I think of color and sensitivity, as much for suffering as for love.

Observing his life’s work added to my understanding of 20th-century Jewish life, as much as to my personal pleasure.

In Paris, le Palais Garnier, the Opera House, is home to a glittering gold and red Chagall ceiling and the Museum of Jewish Art, in Montmartre, displays a selection of lithographs. The Centre Pompidou displays dozens of works from his youth in Vitebsk, where he was born in 1887, through the 1960s in the south of France, where he died in 1985. This national museum is in the fourth arrondissement near the Marais, the nowtrendy neighborhood that was once home to the largest Jewish population in Europe. Its narrow, cobblestone alleyways, distinctive architecture and synagogues retain a strong Jewish presence, and on rue de Rosier, kosher restaurants serve everything from fine steaks to falafels. From the Centre Pompidou’s rooftop terrace, there’s a clear view of Notre Dame. One of two female figures on the façade, Synagoga, represents Judaism as symbolized by the broken tablets with the Ten Commandments. Behind Notre Dame, where the Ile de la Cite comes to a point in the Seine River, the moving Memorial de la Deportation is dedicated to the 200,000 deported during World War II.

I explored Marseille — European Capital of Culture 2013 and home to a large Jewish community — by bus, before heading 19 miles north to Aixen-Provence to see the Atelier Cezanne, Musée Granet and Fondation Vasarely.

Nice is home to a vibrant Jewish community and The Musée National Marc Chagall, with the most splendid and comprehensive of all Chagall collections. It stars 17 biblical paintings, brightly colored canvases dedicated to his wife, sculptures, brilliant stained-glass windows, mosaics, tapestries, sketches, prints and lithographs. The glorious Matisse museum is in the same Cimiez hillsides.

It takes about a half hour to drive from Nice to Saint Paul de Vence, where Chagall spent his last years. Across from the ancient walled fortification is the sprawling Fondation Maeght. Chagall mosaics decorate the architecturally stunning, parklike spot, as does work by Calder, Giacometti, Modigliani and Miró. Chagall is not the only artist who makes my spirit soar, yet no others compare to him for his love of color, life, relationships and for his love of his Jewish heritage.

The article originally was published at Jewish.Travel

Last modified on Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 19:07

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Stained-glass windows in the axial chapel of Reims Cathedral in France, designed by Marc Chagall and made by Charles Marq in 1974.

Stained-glass windows in the axial chapel of Reims Cathedral in France, designed by Marc Chagall and made by Charles Marq in 1974.

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