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Marc Chagall Biography

About Marc Chagall

Born on July 7, 1887, Marc Chagall was born in Belorussia, Russian Empire. He was a French designer, painter, and printmaker who developed images based on emotional and poetic associations rather than on the rules of standard pictorial logic. Since his work predated Surrealism, his earlier pieces, such as I and the Village, were some of the first expressions of having a psychic reality in modern artwork. He had works in a variety of mediums including, etchings illustrating the Bible, sets for ballets and plays, and stained-glass windows.


Marc’s early life and pieces

Marc was born in a small city not far from the Polish frontier in the Russian Empire. His family, totaled 9 children including him, and was devoutly jewish. His family was humble without being apart of the lower class of individuals; he had a father who worked in the herring warehouse while his mom was in charge of a store that sold flour, fish, spices, and sugar. As a child Chagall attended the heder but later on it was decided that he should go to public school. He studied painting after he learned the basics of art in public school. In the year 1907, he went on to St. Petersburg, so that he could study internationally for a few years, under the tutelage of Leon Bakst, the Russian stage designer. During this period Chagall produced works that include the Dead Man, and My Fiancé with BlackGloves, a painting that allowed Marc to experiment with the arrangement of the colors white and Black.


In the year 1910, Chagall was able to go to Paris, granted a living allowance by the St. Petersburg patron. After spending around a year and a half in Montparnasse, he decided to move into a studio on the outskirts of town, in a settlement for bohemian artists known as La Ruche or The Beehive. It was there that he met the poets Blaise Cendrars, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Max Jacob, as well as a few younger painters who had skill enough to become famous in the future. It was in the company of these artists that pictorial audacity was encouraged and Chagall was able to develop seemingly poetic and irrational tendencies that he went on to show off in Russia. It was at this same time that, under the influence of the post-impressionist, impressionist, and Fauvist pictures he saw in commercial galleries and Paris Museums, that he gave up the sombre palette that he typically used in his home.


Maturity as an Artist

The best phase of his art career is often considered as the first 4 years of his stay in the French Capital. Works such as I and the Village, Self Portrait with Seven Fingers, Hommage a Apollinaire, The Fiddler, Calvary, and Paris Through the Window. It was in pictures such as these that one could notice that Chagall was the artist by this point that he would be for the remaining 60 years of his life. The colors used would show the characteristic complexity and resonance he would eventually achieve at maturity. He would often use figurative elements, often pictured upside down, are often placed in such a way as to produce an effect that oftentimes resembles a film montage. The overall atmosphere of works such as these imply a vaudeville turn, Russian fairy tale, or a Yiddish joke. Oftentimes the main character is the typically handsome, fair-haired painter himself. Chagall would often draw from memories of his childhood as major sources for his artwork during this maturation period in his life.


Once he finished the exhibition in the Annual Paris Salon des Independants and Salon d’Automne, Chagall did his first solo show in Berlin in the year 1914. This show was in the gallery of the publication Der Sturm. He also made a very strong impression in the German Expressionist groups. Once he was finished with visiting the exhibition, he went on to travel to Vitebsk. In the moment he went on to work in a realistic style, where he painted a series of of images on old men and other local scenes. In the year 1915, he went on to marry the beautiful Bella Rosenfeld, a wealthy merchant's daughter. His love for her can be seen in the many paintings he made depicting her.


Marc was incredibly excited about the Russian Revolution, at first; he was the commissar for art for the Vitebsk region and even started an ambitious project for the local art museum and academy. After around 2 and a half years of high impact activity regarding this work he decided to give up and make a home in Moscow. While in Moscow he decided to focus, for a bit, on the stage sets and costumes for plays written by the writer Sholem Alechem as well as murals for the Kamerny Theatre. Chagall ended up leaving Russia for good and moved to Berlin, a place where he ended up discovering that a vast degree of the images, he’d left there in the year 1914 were gone. Now that he had a family in the year 1923, he ended up settling in Paris.

While in Berlin, Marc ended up learning engraving techniques. Through a friend of his named Cendrars he also ended up meeting the famous Parisian art dealer / publisher Ambroise Vollard, who decided to commission him in 1923 to make an etching series that illustrated a special edition of Dead Souls, a Nikolay Gogol novel.  It was by this time when Vollard came up with an idea for another commission for Chagall, etchings that offer a rendition for the Bible. By the year 1939, Chagall completed 66 of the 118 plates in total. The work was brought to a halt for a moment when Vollard died but he eventually continued to create the work after the war was over.


The Parisian publisher decided to continue where Vollard left off and he issued the Dead Souls etchings in the year 1948 and issued the Bible in 1956.


During the 20s and 30s, Marc ended up painting less larger canvases as his work became more popular and poetic to the general populace. As Hitler rose to power, and with the growing threat a new issue with the New World, Marc started to have a different vision. One can see this in the painting, White Crucifixion. This painting incorporated Christian and Jewish symbols which were conflated through a depiction of how the German Jews were terrorized by the Nazi mob.

Marc decided to travel extensively while working in Brittany in the year 1924, while in southern France in the year 1926, and while preparing for the bible etchings in the year 1930. In the year 1931 he published his biography My Life.


Later part of Life for Marc Chagall

Chagall decided to move to the Loire as World War II broke out. And in the year 1941 he decided to move himself and family to the US. For a time, while in the US, he decided to continue developing themes he’d already worked on in France. However, in the year 1944, when his wife died, pictured of her became a recurring motif. For instance, she appeared in the Wedding Candles, and as a weeping wife in Around Her.

In the year 1948, Chagall decided to settle down in France, at first, he took a place in Paris and finally decided to settle on the French Riviera.


For the last 30 years of his life, Marc was considered prolific. He ended up mastering the art of stained glass in the 1950s, and ended up designing a vast number of windows for international places such as the synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, The Cathedral of Metz, the Art institute of Chicago, and the UN building in New york. These windows are considered a keystone series of work of his.


Marc also managed to remain involved in theatre design at this time, managing to complete a vast number of pieces for the New York Metropolitan Opera, and the Paris Opera. On that same note, Marc Chagall’s Museum of Biblical Message was actually dedicated at Nice, France. It’s also worth noting that over the span of his life Chagall is credited with having painted over 10,000 works. 


Where are the America windows of Marc Chagall?

The America windows of Marc Chagall are a set of windows that Marc created to celebrate America’s Bicentennial year. They are stationed in the Art Institute of Chicago. 


How much do Chagall paintings sell for? 

The price of each painting varies but it usually stays in the high five digits. The most expensive painting that was sold was Les Amoureux, a painting that sold for $25 million at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Auction in NY. It was sold to a Russian buyer for 28.4 million after fees. 


Are Chagall prints worth anything? 

Yes, they definitely are. Here you can find prices for a few lithographs of Chagall’s work.



Harshav, B., Chagall, M., & Harshav, B. (2004). Marc Chagall and his times: A documentary narrative. Stanford University Press.

Walther, I. F., Metzger, R., & Chagall, M. (2000). Chagall. Taschen.

Harshav, B. (2003). Marc Chagall on Art and Culture. Stanford University Press.

Wilson, J. (2009). Marc Chagall. Schocken.

Sweeney, J. J. (1946). Marc Chagall. Museum of modern art.

Reviewed by an art historian and appraiser

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