Published: March 15, 2011
As a center of cosmopolitan culture and a symbol of modernity, Paris held a magnetic attraction for artists from Eastern Europe during the early decades of the Twentieth Century.
Most painters and sculptors settled around Montparnasse, which was sprinkled with cafes and art galleries. It was here that Marc Chagall, Jules Pascin Alexander Archipenko, Moïse Kisling, Jacques Lipchitz, Amedeo Modigliani, Louis Marcoussis, Chana Orloff, Margit Pogany, Chaim Soutine and Ossip Zadkine established studios and discovered each other’s work.
“Paris Through the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle,” on view through July 10 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, includes around 40 paintings and sculptures by these émigrés, whose work was both imbued with the spirit of Modernism and informed by their own cultural heritage. The exhibition focuses in particular on the paintings Chagall made between 1910 and 1920, including “Half Past Three (The Poet),” 1911, one of the treasures of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The exhibition highlights a strength of the museum’s holdings of early Modern art and is presented in conjunction with a new international arts festival in Philadelphia that is being organized by the city’s Kimmel Center and will run from April 7 to May 1.
“‘Paris Through the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle’ represents the museum’s contribution to this festival and will focus on the powerful influence that Paris had on Chagall and his contemporaries,” said Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener director and CEO of the museum. The curator of the exhibition, Michael R. Taylor, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the museum, continued: “This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to reconsider the cross-fertilization of ideas that took place in the French capital during the 1910s and 1920s, which was one of the most experimental and creative periods in Western art.”
The exhibition is largely drawn from the museum’s collection of Modern painting and sculpture, supplemented with a handful of key loans from museums and private collections in the United States and Europe. These include one of Chagall’s most famous works, the early masterpiece “Paris Through the Window,” 1913, from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, which presents a kaleidoscopic impression of the city of Paris as seen from Chagall’s studio window at La Ruche.
Another important loan to the exhibition is the 1915 painting “The Poet Reclining” from the Tate Modern in London, which belongs to the same series of euphoric poet paintings as “Half-Past Three (The Poet),” which Chagall made four years earlier. In his first years in Paris, the artist counted among his closest friends the poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars, both of whom wrote eloquently about his work, and these delightfully tumultuous paintings address the themes of poetic reverie, fantasy and inspiration that also characterized his own approach to artmaking.
Like many of the La Ruche artists, Chagall returned to his homeland following the outbreak of World War I, which would have a deep impact on his future work, as seen in “Wounded Soldier” and “The Smolensk Newspaper,” both dated 1914. In the latter poignant painting, a young man reacts to the newspaper headline regarding the outbreak of the global conflict with a mixture of terror and disbelief, surely realizing that he would be called up for military duty in the Russian army, while the older bearded man pensively reflects on the wars he has seen during his long life.
During the war years Chagall continued to paint scenes that are evocative of his childhood in Vitebsk, such as Purim, of 1916‱8, which remains one of his best-known and most beloved paintings of Jewish village life before the Russian Revolution.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For information, 215-763-8100 or www.philamuseum.org .
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