There was no place like La Ruche for a starving artist. The building was originally intended only as a temporary building designed by Gustav Eiffel for the Great Exposition of 1900, but the artist Alfred Boucher gave it a new life and re-opened it as a hub of artist studios in 1902. Its name translates to “beehive” due to the cylindrical shape and maze-like layout of the three-storey building. Located in the 15 arrondissement of Paris, La Ruche quickly became a hub of activity because of the low studio rent, free artists’ models that were provided, and proximity to the arts and culture of Paris.
When a 24-year old Marc Chagall moved to Paris from Russia in 1911, La Ruche was already a thriving artist colony with its own robust exhibition and theater schedule. An established population of Eastern European artists had already planted roots in the studio complex and their artistic output was varied and complex. All styles were embraced and living in close quarters gave artists ample opportunity to be influenced by the styles of their peers. This meant that artists in La Ruche often worked in blended styles, taking cues from all of the leading movements of the time. Chagall definitely did this, merging elements of Cubism, Expressionism, Fauvism, and Futurism together in this own idiosyncratic way.
While at La Ruche, Chagall would rub shoulders with other emerging artists such as Fernard Leger and Amadeo Modgliani. La Ruche would be home to a number of great artists and poets during its existence, including but not limited to Guillaume Apollinaire, Alexander Archipenko, Robert Delaunay, Constantin Brancusi, and Diego Rivera. Living with all of these fellow creatives was a singular experience that would often serve as inspiration for the content of Chagall’s work during his stay there. One of his first works created at La Ruche, the 1911 painting Half-Past Three (The Poet), depicts his friend and neighbor, the Russian poet Mazin, who would visit his studio to mingle and have a drink in the early hours of the morning. Half-Past Three documents this time with a friend and the kind of carefree artistic mingling that living at La Ruche encouraged. Another of Chagall’s most famous works, Paris Through the Window, was also created during Chagall’s time at La Ruche in 1913, depicting the view from his studio.
Chagall once said, “In La Ruche, you either came out dead or famous.” Chagall, needless to say, survived his stint in the notorious artist colony and came out famous, one of the many artists from La Ruche that would leave a lasting legacy on 20th century art.
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Marc Chagall Biography
Marc Chagall was born July 7, 1887, in Vitebsk, Belarus. From 1907 to 1910, he studied in Saint Petersburg, at the Imperial Society for the Protection of the Arts and later with Léon Bakst. In 1910, he moved to Paris, where he associated with Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay and encountered Fauvism and Cubism. Chagall is known for his colorful and illustrative paintings. He participated in the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d'Automne in 1912. His first solo show was held in 1914 at Der Sturm gallery in Berlin.
Chagall visited Russia in 1914, and was prevented from returning to Paris by the outbreak of war. He settled in Vitebsk, where he was appointed Commissar for Art in 1918. He founded the Vitebsk Popular Art School and directed it until disagreements with the Suprematists resulted in his resignation in 1920. He moved to Moscow and executed his first stage designs for the State Jewish Chamber Theater there. After a sojourn in Berlin, Chagall returned to Paris in 1923 and met Ambroise Vollard. His first retrospective took place in 1924 at the Galerie Barbazanges-Hodebert, Paris. During the 1930s, he traveled to Palestine, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, and Italy. In 1933, the Kunsthalle Basel held a major retrospective of his paintings.
During World War II, Chagall fled to the United States. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gave him a retrospective in 1946. He settled permanently in France in 1948 and exhibited in Paris, Amsterdam, and London. During 1951, he visited Israel and executed his first sculptures, moving away from his paintings. The following year, the artist traveled in Greece and Italy. During the 1960s, Chagall continued to travel widely, often in association with large-scale commissions he received. Among these were windows for the synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem, installed in 1962; a ceiling for the Paris Opéra, installed in 1964; a window for the United Nations building, New York, installed in 1964; murals for the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, installed in 1967; and windows for the cathedral in Metz, France, installed in 1968. An exhibition of the artist's work from 1967 to 1977 was held at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, in 1977-78, and a major retrospective was held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1985. During his lifetime he also created popular lithographs, such as Maternity, based on his paintings. Chagall died March 28, 1985, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.
"When Matisse dies," Pablo Picasso remarked, "Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is." Picasso claimed he was not a fan of the "flying violins and all the folklore, but his canvases are really painted, not just thrown together." He followed up by saying, "There's never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has."
The Museum of Biblical Art describes The Bible Chagall prints as showing "Chagall's fluid forms, dreamlike sense of space and unique style. In his choice of subject matter, Chagall reveals his reading of the Old Testament in its moments of triumph, sorrow, and prophecy." Chagall paintings often illustrated biblical and mythological stories in a way that showed the viewer the message while remaining visually intriguing. Today Chagall paintings are made more accessible through the plethora of prints the artist created of his paintings.
MARC CHAGALL PRINTS
As an artist who delved into the whimsical, Chagall found that his timing was impeccable when he moved to Paris, which was at the time the centre of the modern art world and abuzz with Cubism. While Cubism was becoming the dominant movement of the time, much of the French art establishment was still under the thumb of older 19th century ideas, which made Chagall’s appearance to the art scene feel like a breath of fresh air, his ideas of art as coming from inside, being an outwards projection of one's mind and psychic being that allowed him to incorporate new trends, such as futurism and orphism.
It was during this time that Chagall had his first commercial successes. He became an integral part of what later became known as the Ecole de Paris. Some of his paintings from this period, like Paris Through the Window, show his very successful attempts to fit into his new milieu, while others, like The Birthday, and I and the Village are filled with nostalgia for his old life in Vitebsk. The range of emotive and whimsical figures and motifs in Chagall's work led André Breton to say that he alone had returned metaphor triumphantly to modern painting.
Chagall travelled all over the world as his reputation of a painter and illustrator of high repute grew. Though he was in Berlin for a brief period, he had learned his techniques of engraving while he was there before departing back to Paris in 1923. While in Paris, through his friend Cendrars, he was introduced to the renowned Paris art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard who personally facilitated the growth of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, and more. Vollard had commissioned Chagall to illustrate Nicolai Gogol’s “Les Ames Mortes (Dead Souls)”, as well as the French literary classic “Fables” written by Jean de la Fontaine, resulting in an extensive collection of some of Chagall’s most evocative works. Chagall also began creating a series of etchings and engravings that illustrated the Bible in 1931 at the behest of Vollard. Chagall created 65 etchings from 1931 to 1939, but the escalation of the Second World War and Vollard’s sudden death halted the ambitious commission until 1952. The artist finally completed the extensive undertaking four years later.
Chagall's works are steeped in his Jewish heritage, often including memories of his home in Vitebsk, Belarus and in Vitebsk, Belarus and it's folk culture. These subjects are the themes that Chagall always returns to. Some have argued that his painting style after the war was more subdued, melancholy, even hearkening back in time to post-Impressionism, but as ever, his work was entirely, uniquely his own. Chagall, throughout his career, incorporated elements from many schools of modern art, including Cubism, Fauvism, Symbolism, Surrealism, Orphism and Futurism. Ever though, his work revealed deeper levels of a resonant, lyrical emotional aesthetic, of music and culture, of a deep, intrinsic understanding of Jewish heritage.
The Russian master continued to rival the artistic achievement of paint with the technical refinement and emotional charge of lithography. Ironically, Marc Chagall only began to entrust the medium when he was 63 years old, though he is widely-considered to have revolutionized and innovated the practice’s color capabilities.