CHAGALL - an exhibition celebrating the story of an international master, among the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Marc Chagall (1887-1985). For a change we decided on a Sunday afternoon (29 October) to visit the Chagall exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Australia in Alma Road, St Kilda. This obviously appealed as we had well over 40 bookings with the first 5 to book and attend being refunded their registration.
We needed to divide the attendees into 2 groups to avoid overcrowding and are grateful to the exuberant James Perini who conducted both tours with an informative commentary on the works presented thematically, and consequently chronologically; we visited each of the 6 spaces dedicated to the variety of genres Chagall developed as he moved from his native Russia to France with a brief spell in New York during WW2. The idea of presenting the tour in both English and French worked well and we thank Claire Cowen and Lucie Dickens for providing a French summary of James' comments offering an opportunity to hear excellent French and reinforce important concepts and insights.
We began downstairs in the Carnelian Room with a special exhibition commissioned by the museum featuring the works of Yvette Coppersmith whose paintings, especially her self-portraits, were inspired by Bella Rosenfeld, the writer, wife and muse of Marc Chagall.
Upstairs we entered the world of Chagall to the curator Jade Nik's inspired vision that included over 100 original works - paintings, stained glass, illustrated poems, etchings, engravings, woodcuts and more; we progressed from his early, smaller works reflecting home and heritage with images of domesticity, mothers and personal daily experiences to the grand public works such as the Opera Garnier ceiling in Paris.
The second space was dedicated to Chagall’s work in printmaking with his illustrations of novels and poetry with a rare signed copy Nikolai Gogol’s Russian novel, Les Ames Mortes loaned by the State Library of Victoria as well as two prints from the NGV of the morality tales from 1800’s France, now part of the French school curriculum and the poetry of Paul Elouard and illustrated by Chagall, signed by both.
We then moved to the Paris Room where saw many familiar monuments and motifs of French life-the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame., many now incorporating floral motifs, the figures reminiscent of his first works in his native Russia but more colourful, theatrical, and bold, featuring harlequins, circus performers, music. It was in this room too we learned the story of Malraux commissioning Chagall to repaint the Opera House ceiling. We were also privileged to see the oil painting Mother and Child with its vibrant hues of green and red, the first time this work has been shown in a public institution in Australia., bequeathed to the NGV.
Our final views of Chagall’s versatility were the magnificent stained glass windows he created for both synagogues and cathedrals from France, the UK and the most renowned 12-part Hadassah stained-glass windows presented for the first time to Australian audiences. Some early films illustrating his methods of working with glass displayed the intricacy of this process.
Thank you James and the museum staff for your welcome and for giving us such an oppportunity to see and learn so much about this artist who combined his folkloric painterly roots of his native Russia and the Parisian avant-garde, with fauvist, cubist, and expressionist styles, creating a sensibility that was truly his own, his name and influence held by many alongside Picasso, Matisse and Monet Thank you too James for allowing me to use parts of the transcript used to describe many details of this exhibition.
PS a possible classroom activity for further research on the Chagall painting, Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (listening section fast but provides a transcription for creating other activities/re-recording) Thanks to Delphine Laboureau-Ormancey, French Tête-a-Tête, for sending this link and mille mercis to Dinah Stimar for all of your help in organising this most successful AFTV event.
Gretchen Bennett - Convenor of Cultural/PL Events