1 year ago
Sunday, April 15, 2012
"N" is for Nostalgia
What is a Chagall?
A Chagall is – well, just about everything.
It’s a painting, a stageset, a tapestry, stained glass, even dishes and pots.
It’s cubism? Yes. Symbolism? Of course.
But it’s basically modernism, color-splashed modernism, with surrealism as a powerful driving engine.
If you can get past the Modern Art 101 terminology, a Chagall is also something very different.
Carefully examining the work of this painter, Marc Chagall, you will find a dependence on a theme that appears throughout: nostalgia. It is really his one long dreamy reverie of life in his native village.
That village, over a hundred years ago, was a town named Vitebsk, then part of the Russian Empire.
We know it as Anatevka.
Why? Well, of the many pictures of Eastern European Jewish life Chagall painted, one was titled “The Fiddler,” who was standing, strangely enough, on a roof.
To the artist, a fiddler, especially one trying to play on a roof, was a metaphor for Jewish survival in tsarist Russia, a life of uncertainty and imbalance.
That painting inspired the Broadway show, “Fiddler on the Roof,” which was the first musical to run for over 3,000 performances.
When rumpled Tevye, the milkman (who had five daughters, among other problems), sang about his humble home town, Anatevka, he was really Marc Chagall, who throughout his lifetime kept remembering his town, Vitebsk.
“People who pass through Anatevka don't even know they've been here.
A stick of wood. A piece of cloth.
What do we leave? Nothing much.
Underfed, overworked Anatevka.
Where else could Sabbath be so sweet?
Intimate, obstinate Anatevka,
Where I know everyone I meet.
Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place,
Searching for an old familiar face
When Chagall left his Anatevka to go to Paris, he was no longer Russian; he became Russian-French, and one of the most successful artists of the 20th century.