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Museum galleries become a treasure house of Chagall's works, including first local showing of 1957 Bible series
Marc Chagall, Le clown vert, 1970-75. Oil on canvas, 33 X 24 cms. Private Collection. Marc Chagall © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
ROSLYN HARBOR, NY.- Two years ago, Ambassador Arnold Saltzman, the founding president and current executive vice president of Nassau County Museum of Art, proposed a highly ambitious undertaking—an exhibition that would make the museum’s galleries a treasure house of works by Marc Chagall. The museum’s former director, Constance Schwartz, was enlisted to organize an extraordinary exhibition of Chagall’s work, more extensive than any other previously seen in this area, and including paintings being shown to the Long Island public for the first time. Saltzman and Schwartz reached out for important loans from the many collectors, galleries and museums that they had established relationships with over the years. These efforts have resulted in Marc Chagall, a major exhibition that features significant paintings and a large selection from Chagall’s series of 105 hand-colored etchings of Bible stories that he produced in 1957. These etchings have never before been seen on Long Island. Marc Chagall, opening at Nassau County Museum of Art on July 21, 2012 and remaining on view through November 4, 2012, is supported by the Saltzman Family Foundation and The David Berg Foundation.

The works selected for the exhibition demonstrate how Chagall, throughout a long and distinguished career, incorporated facets of his early Russian-Jewish heritage into multilayered works. Chagall’s storytelling paintings portray a fantastic pictorial world where heaven and earth seem to meet, and couples are always in love. It’s a world where people and animals—cows, goats, donkeys, horses and birds—float upside down or sideways, irrespective of the laws of gravity. Chagall’s hypersensitive imagination is palpable as he shares with the viewer his memories of family in brilliantly colored works set amidst the houses and streets of his native Vitebsk.

The Bible etchings on view in Marc Chagall are on loan from the Haggerty Art Museum of Marquette University in Milwaukee. Chagall’s biographer, Franz Meyer, wrote: “Chagall’s ties with the Bible are very deep indeed; the forms that people its world are a part of his own inner life, part of the living Jewish heritage, and thus are archetypes of a greater, more intensive world.” In Marc Chagall—The Graphic Works, Meyer speculates that the significance of the Bible in Chagall’s work was rooted in his early childhood experiences in Russia.

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was the eldest of nine children born to a poor Russian-Jewish family in Vitebsk. His artistic talent was evident early with a distinctive style of images from childhood emerging during his studies with Leon Bakst in St. Petersburg. Working in Paris from 1910 to 1914, Chagall began to produce paintings inspired by Russian folklore and village life. In 1914, prior to the start of World War I, Chagall returned to Russia, ascending to the post of Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk. It was there that he produced works that were to become his most famous—images in strong, bright colors depicting otherworldly states that fused fantasy, nostalgia and religion. He left Russia in 1922. Thereafter he remained in France permanently, save for the years of the Nazi occupation when he fled to the safety of New York and its environs.

The museum is offering several exhibition-related programs to enhance understanding and enjoyment of the Chagall exhibition. Artists of the 20th Century: Marc Chagall is a 50-minute film screening daily from July 21 through November 4; the film explores Chagall’s Russian-Jewish roots. Lunchtime lectures on the exhibition will be offered on August 23, September 20 and October 25, On October 6, Director Emerita and Guest Curator Constance Schwartz discusses Chagall and the works included in the exhibition. On September 15 a Klezmer Band presents a concert of the spirited music heard at Jewish weddings and celebrations in the Russia of Chagall’s youth. Art historian and author Charles A. Riley II, Ph.D. returns to the museum on October 13 with a talk about Chagall’s artwork for the performing arts, especially opera and dance. Children’s programs in connection with the Chagall exhibition include Friday morning readings of Eastern European folklore on July 27, August 3 and August 10, followed by a family-friendly exhibition tour and supervised art activities. Show Us Your Collections! on August 18 will encourage youngsters to share their prized possessions and create new art with a variety of materials. Discover Chagall’s Childhood World on October 20 features a real petting zoo to echo the animal characters seen in Chagall’s paintings of his native Village of Vitebsk; children will be guided in creating pastel representations of their own neighborhoods.





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