The Jewish Eye
By Jonathan Wilson
Schocken Books, New York: 2007
Reviewed by Simone Bonim - July 16, 2007
Marc Chagall (Moishe Shagal) was a Russian-born Jew who studied painting in Russia and France. He became renowned for his synergy of Cubism and Fauvism styles in his paintings and stain-glass projects. Despite not wanting to be known as a 'Jewish' artist, Chagall primarily painted Jewish-themed pictures that captured not only the essence of Jewish folklore, but also the hearts of all who viewed his works. In Marc Chagall, Jonathan Wilson presents a compelling narrative on Chagall, examining not only his paintings, but also his political, artistic, and religious leanings, including the Christian iconography that repeatedly turned up in his work.
Wilson, who wrote such novels as A Palestine Affair and The Hiding Room, is a lyrical writer who has, in this work, written a popular and accessible biography of a complicated artist. Wilson writing style is dynamic and fluid, and he paints a vivid portrait of Chagall's life and work.
Within the pages of this book, Wilson examines the influences that affected Chagall's work, influences that ranged from his exposure to antisemitism to his exposure to the work of Matisse and other French artists. Wilson also examines Chagall's marriages to Bella Rosenfeld and Valentina Brodsky, his relationship with his daughter Ida, his 'exile' to America during the Holocaust, and his affiliation with Israel.
Wilson's Marc Chagall is one of the books in the "Jewish Encounters" series. It was written primarily for general readers, although scholars will find this an intriguing book to read. The book includes a brief bibliographic note that will prove useful to those seeking to delve further into Chagall's life. Also included is an informative Chronology of Chagall's life and the major world events that were to have an impact on his life and his career. The only drawback to this otherwise outstanding book is that it contains only one color picture, Chagall's Double Portrait with Wineglass. This is also the only example of Chagall's work in this book, although it contains several black and white family and unposed photographs.
Chagall (1887 - 1985), paintings aside, lived an interesting life. He lived through both World War I and II, lived in both Tzarist Russia and the Soviet Union, he was force to flee from his home on more than one occasion due to persecution, and he was married twice - to two very disparate women. Take this already tumultuous life and toss in a renowned career as an artist, and you have a complex and highly readable account of one man's extraordinary life.
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