Bella Chagall (née Rosenfeld) was born in 1895 in Vitebsk, Belarus to Shmuel Rosenfeld and Alta Leviente, Hasidic Jews who owned and ran a successful jewelry business. Bella was the youngest child, having eight older brothers and sisters. After attending Russian language schools in Vitebsk, Bella moved to Moscow to attend the University of Moscow. While there she studied history, philosophy, and literature. Bella supplemented her studies by writing articles for a local Moscow newspaper. Bella met Marc Chagall in 1909 while visiting friends in St. Petersburg. Both described it as love at first sight, and they were quickly engaged. Her parents were not thrilled at the match, but Bella and Chagall were nevertheless married in 1915 in Vitebsk. Their daughter Ida was born one year later in 1916.
The Chagall’s moved around for the next few years, ending up in Russia during World War I. They left in 1922, living in Berlin for a year, and finally settling in Paris in 1924. Marc Chagall was working with Ambroise Vollard often during this time, and Bella was raising their daughter and supporting his career. At one point she translated his biography from Russian into French, after another translator had failed to please Marc. After being held up in Lisbon for a month on their way to America, the Chagall’s reached New York in 1941. Just before they were due to return to Paris in 1944, Bella contracted a throat infection and died a few days later.
During the entirety of their relationship, Bella was a constant source of inspiration for Chagall, gracing canvas upon canvas. Though Chagall married again, Bella continued to be his muse for long after her death. A few years later in 1946, Chagall posthumously published Bella’s book Burning Lights.
- Jamieson, Daniel. “Head over heels in love: Marc and Bella Chagall’s spectacular romance,” The Guardian. May 27th, 2016. Accessed October 17th, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/may/27/marc-and-bella-chagall-the-flying-lovers-of-vitebsk-emma-rice
- Levine, Karen (ed.) Marc Chagall. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2003.