Jewish Studies Marc Chagall
by
Maya Balakirsky Katz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0068

Introduction

This bibliography focuses on the artist Marc Chagall (b. 1887–d. 1985; born Moyshe Shagal), whose career at the center of modern art movements and institutions saw its evolution in several continents and spanned the 20th century. Chagall was one of the most versatile artists of the modern period; he produced tapestries, paintings, stained glass, drawings, prints, sculpture, murals, and stage design and worked in many different genres, such as portraiture, landscape, and illustration. With his migrations from Russia to France to America and his many international commissions, Chagall is variously identified as a Russian painter, a Jewish painter, a French painter, and an international artist and is most adequately associated with multiple identities simultaneously. While Chagall has been studied through a variety of lenses, including his artistic influences (surrealism, cubism, primitivism), his major periods, and the ways in which his reputation rose and fell, Jewish studies scholars and art historians of Jewish art have found Chagall’s national cosmopolitanism a useful lens through which to study the relationship between Jews and modernity in the 20th century. Like other Jewish artists who would enter the artistic culture in France, Chagall grew up in a Jewish town (Vitebsk) in the Pale of Settlement. The memory of his childhood home inspired much of his work throughout his career; therefore, many of the texts included in this bibliography give significant attention to the artist’s early life and the residual impact it had on his work and life. The sections of the bibliography approach the artist through categories that concern his cultural heritage as well as through categories that shed light on his artistic choices. The sections defined by geography (his early Russian period, French period, American period, and the period associated with his work in Israel) reflect the regionalism that has informed the vast majority of Chagall scholarship. There are also sections defined by themes and preoccupations relevant to his body of work, such as his attention to biblical themes and his recourse to both Jewish and Christian traditions. General information on particular 20th-century cultural and historical contexts that would have been influential on Chagall’s biography and artistic endeavors is obtainable through the various encyclopedias or survey texts: these range in topics from Russian history at the turn of the century, life in the Jewish ghettoes, traditions in Jewish art, the impact of the Holocaust, and the culture debates of Zionism.

Jewish Art Surveys

In the broad field of Jewish studies, Marc Chagall holds the place of the quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century. Chagall’s reputation for “Jewish art” has been earned more for his articulation of Yiddish culture than religious identity, and art historians of Jewish art generally give Chagall’s cultural Judaism a prominent role in Jewish art surveys (Kampf 1990), although some surveys conspicuously avoid giving Chagall a central place (Baigell and Heyd 2001). Those that do place Chagall at the center of the Jewish art survey focus more on his themes across genres and mediums and seek to include the scope of his work within the canon of Jewish art (Roth 1971, Schwartz 1949). Sed-Rajna, et al. 1997 places Chagall among Jewish artists searching for a universal visual language such as Marc Rothko and Barnett Newman.

  • Baigell, Matthew, and Milly Heyd, eds. Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

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    In this volume devoted to artists and their Jewish identities, Chagall is sparingly included. Ziva Amishai-Maisels discusses Chagall in context of the origins of the motif of Jewish Jesus in the work of Jewish artists.

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  • Kampf, Avram. Chagall to Kitaj: Jewish Experience in 20th Century Art. New York: Praeger, 1990.

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    In this survey of Jewish artists of the modern art era, Kampf features Chagall and his work prominently for its fusion of Jewish and Russian folk art with contemporary Western art but also says Chagall consciously subordinated serving Jewish communal interests to aesthetic independence.

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  • Roth, Cecil, ed. Jewish Art: An Illustrated History. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1971.

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    Roth’s scholarship derives from research into biblical text and archaelogical finds to provide an understanding of Jewish art as having continuity in iconographic motif and formal properties that can also, at times, be linked to Christian iconographic tradition in a later European tradition. Chagall is the perfect modern example within this arc.

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  • Schwartz, Karl. Jewish Artists of the 19th and 20th Centuries. New York: Philosophical Library, 1949.

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    Enthusiastically describes Chagall’s work as shedding a positive light on Jewish history, breaking away from the trend to portray Jews as victims of persecution and delving in despair. To demonstrate the significance of this optimistic view in the art itself, Schwartz analyzes Chagall’s use of the animal and the flower motifs.

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  • Sed-Rajna, Gabrielle, Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Sara Friedman, et al. Jewish Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.

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    Chagall is discussed in two chapters: first, in the context of Jewish artistic revival in Russia, where his work is described as adding lightness to an otherwise dark era, in ways that laid the foundations for a modern Jewish national art. Second, Chagall’s insistence on an international aesthetic is credited for setting the tone for Israeli art.

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Image Resources

Before the digitization projects of Art Resource and ARTstor Digital Library, Chagall’s work was rarely systematically organized by genre or chronology. Catalogues that attempt to be comprehensive within genre are very expensive and difficult to attain, although most large art libraries hold copies of Cramer 1995, Moulot and Sorlier 1963, and Kornfeld 1971.

Catalogues and Reviews

Exhibition catalogues have been vital to Chagall’s career by disseminating reproductions of his work to broad audiences in many languages, but few of these single-artist profiles offer any substantial critical approaches to his work. With online image galleries (ARTstor Digital Library, cited under Image Resources), the reproduction of once-scarce Chagall works in noncritical catalogues can no longer be justified. Yet several catalogues have been instrumental in presenting Chagall’s work in provocative ways and have proven influential to the treatment of his work and life in Jewish studies (Compton 1985, Baal-Teshuva 2003). Coverage on Chagall in Jewish encyclopedias tends to contextualize Chagall within the discourse on the 20th-century Jewish contribution to modernism, whereas Cogniat 1985 places Chagall’s work outside of modern movements. Litvak 2007 offers a critique on Chagall historiography, particularly that of Harshav 2006, which presents Chagall as a forerunner to the eclectic historicism of postmodernism.

  • Baal-Teshuva, Jacob, ed. Chagall: A Retrospective. New York: Taschen, 2003.

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    A Taschen overview of Chagall’s works that includes a collection of essays on multiple themes pertinent to the artist and his career.

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  • Cogniat, Raymond. Chagall. New York: Crown, 1985.

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    A rare retrospective that includes Chagall’s work across media: paintings, interior appointments, gouaches, watercolors, ceramics, stained-glass, and theater sets. Color reproductions.

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  • Compton, Susan, ed. Chagall. New York: Abrams, 1985.

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    Edited by a specialist in 20th-century Russian art and theater design, this catalogue accompanied the retrospective of Chagall’s work, the second show of such scale since his 1946 MoMA exhibit.

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  • Harshav, Benjamin. Marc Chagall and the Lost Jewish World: The Nature of Chagall’s Art and Iconography. New York: Rizzoli, 2006.

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    Presents Chagall as a postmodernist with allusion to the artist’s multivarious influences such as Russian and Jewish folk traditions, Yiddish theater, an embedded but multifaceted symbolism, as well as his own identity that was shaped throughout his life from associations with Jewish culture, Russia, America, Paris, and Israel.

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  • Litvak, Olga. “Art Criticism for the Blind: New Approaches to the Life and Work of Marc Chagall.” Ars Judaica 3 (2007): 101–110.

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    Argues that the regional approach to Jewish art neglects aesthetics. Argues that Chagall was willing to be all things to all nationalities not because of his postmodernism but out of self-promotion and the attending career opportunities.

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Biographies

In Chagall studies, even those published in strictly art historical sources, there is a pronounced emphasis on the artist’s biography, often at the exclusion of serious consideration of his work. This approach is justified, at least in part, by Chagall’s aggressive placement of the artist at the center of his art, a trait that marginalized Chagall from the major movements of modernism (Cassou 1965). Chagall’s son-in-law, the art critic Franz Meyer, offers particular introspection into the artist’s personality, probing personal documents and photographs to summon a more personalized understanding of the man behind the art (Meyer 1963). Chagall’s wife (and sometimes model), Bella Rosenfeld Chagall (b. 1895–d. 1914) nurtured this attention by writing a memoir focused on the city in which she and Marc Chagall were born (Chagall 1945 [originally published in 1939], Chagall 1947). While these family relations have tried to explicate the life and work of their artist-relation, other biographers relied heavily on the reports of family members (Alexander 1979). Wullschlager 2008 challenges the earlier biographies of Chagall’s wife and other relatives and those that relied on these memoirs, arguing that the documentary value of Chagall’s insertion of self and his self-conscious references are more fantastic than historical. Bruk 2003 traces the artist’s early years in a useful table format, and Bohm-Duchen 1998 follows Chagall’s life through his moves to various countries, which the author sees as reflected in his poetry and paintings.

  • Alexander, Sidney. Marc Chagall: A Biography. London: Cassell, 1979.

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    Primarily uses interviews to round out a portrait of an already well-known artist. In analyzing Chagall’s contribution to various historical periods, the author offers a wealth of information derived from sources close to the artist or the artist himself (sometimes too abundantly, without enough framework) that are meant to contextualize both the artist as a personality and as a creative talent. Reprinted in 1989.

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  • Bohm-Duchen, Monica. Chagall. London: Phaidon, 1998.

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    Follows Chagall’s life and career from country to country from the perspective of his search for freedom. The biography closes with a chapter on Chagall’s rising international fame and contribution to the art world. Relies heavily on descriptions left behind by friends, wives, and lovers and the documentary value of photographs.

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  • Bruk, Jakov. “Chronology, 1887–1922.” In Marc Chagall. Edited by Jean-Michel Foray and Jakov Bruk, 21–38. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2003.

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    The chronology of Chagall’s early career in this museum catalogue is a useful resource for undergraduates.

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  • Cassou, Jean. Chagall. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965.

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    Chagall’s inclusion in the “World of Art Profiles” series signaled an important milestone in the artist’s career. This biography casts Chagall as a dreamer and a painter of fantasies who defied any of the artistic movements he came to be associated with: fauvism, cubism, expressionism, and surrealism.

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  • Chagall, Bella. Brenendike likht. New York: National Yiddish Book Center, 1945.

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    Available in English under the title Burning Lights (translated by Norbert Guterman, New York: Schocken, 1946). Originally published in 1939, Bella Chagall recounts her memories of childhood in the ghetto with a nostalgia firmly in opposition to the reality European Jews were encountering in the late 1930s. Includes thirty-six of Chagall’s pen-and-ink drawings.

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  • Chagall, Bella. Di Ershte Begegnish. New York: Idishn Fraternaln Ordn, 1947.

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    Considered an essential counterpart to Chagall’s autobiography, Chagall’s wife here presents much of the same material on their courtship and marriage. Available in English under the title First Encounter (translated by Barbara Bray, New York: Schocken, 1983).

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  • Meyer, Franz. Marc Chagall, Life and Work. New York: Abrams, 1963.

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    Takes a chronological approach to the artist’s development. Meyer rests attention on specific works of Chagall’s and looks at ideas and artists that influenced Chagall as well as the ways in which the artist influenced others. Particular attention is paid to deciphering symbolism in Chagall’s work and references to Chagall’s relationship with Judaism or biblical allusions.

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  • Wullschlager, Jackie. Chagall: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

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    Discusses some of the more nuanced details of Chagall’s Hasidic background while stressing his connection to Russian avant-garde circles. Convincingly dates Chagall’s arrival to France to 1911 rather than Chagall’s claim in his autobiography that he emigrated in 1910, thereby calling into question the factual value of Chagall’s own accounts and shortening the years of Chagall’s formative “French period.”

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Autobiographical Writings

Chagall was a prolific spokesman for his art and put the artist at the center of his art. Harshav 2003 and Harshav 2004 gather together a comprehensive collection of Chagall’s writing on his life and art, rendering previous and more partial attempts at compilation largely outdated. Chagall 1931 nonetheless remains useful as the official version, although it was highly edited by his wife and written with an eye for nostalgia. With a psychoanalytic approach, Schneider 1946 looks back to Chagall’s images of Vitebsk to discover and interpret condensed symbols where other analyses have seen irrational and disconnected modernist images.

  • Chagall, Marc. Ma Vie. Paris, 1931.

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    Available in English under the title My Life (translated by Dorothy Williams, London: Peter Owen, 1965). Originally written in Russian in 1922, this autobiography was translated into French by his wife Bella [Rosenfeld] Chagall in 1931 and was highly edited by her in the process.

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  • Harshav, Benjamin. Marc Chagall and His Times: A Documentary Narrative. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.

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    Harshav approaches the subject matter of the artist through a portion of Chagall’s personal correspondence. Includes sections of Chagall’s 1922 autobiography writing (eventually published in 1931) and samplings of reviews of the artist’s work. Briefly contextualizes each chapter and then allows the vast documentary resources to guide the reader through Chagall’s varied cultural past, with texts translated from French, Yiddish, German, Russian, and Hebrew.

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  • Harshav, Benjamin, ed. Marc Chagall on Art and Culture. Translated by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

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    A nearly-comprehensive collection of Chagall’s public commentary on art and culture. Harshav rejects the popular image of Chagall as a Jewish folk artist and emphasizes his dynamic multiculturalism. Delineates Chagall’s artistic talent as drawing from multiple cultural identities, histories, and affiliations. Reproduces one of the earliest books on Chagall by Abram Efros and Yaakov Tugendhol’d (1918) in full.

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  • Schneider, Daniel. “A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Painting of Marc Chagall.” College Art Journal 6.2 (1946): 115–124.

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    In this early application of the psychoanalytic approach to Jewish art, Schneider treats Chagall’s images of Vitebsk as condensed “symbols.”

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Jewish Identity

Chagall is known as the quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century, and scholars have attributed much to the influence of his Hasidic background to his art (Marcadé 1987). As an artist, Chagall moved in avant-garde circles yet consistently returned to motifs in his work that he identified as rooted in his Jewish heritage (Chagall 1984). His role as the arch-Jewish artist has led scholars to measure closely against his Jewish background the imagery and references Chagall uses (Rajner 2005), while others defend Chagall’s use of Russian, Eastern, or Orthodox symbol systems as fodder for Jewish in-jokes (Amishai-Maisels 1978). Rajner 2004 stresses the class issues that are inherent to the reading of Chagall’s work as a reflection of Jewish identity.

  • Amishai-Maisels, Ziva. “Chagall’s Jewish In-Jokes.” Journal of Jewish Art 5 (1978): 79–93.

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    In an article that offers an alternative explanation to Mira Friedman’s thesis on Chagall’s use of the Russian icon tradition, Amishai-Maisels interprets Chagall’s use of icon symbols as Jewish in-jokes on the Christian tradition, such as the improbability of the virgin birth.

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  • Chagall, Marc. “What Is a Jewish Artist?” In The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe. Edited by Lucy Dawidowicz, 331–332. New York: Schocken, 1984.

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    In the context of a commemorative volume on the “Old World,” this stream-of-consciousness piece suggests that international aspiration defines Jewish artists. Chagall’s famous quote appears in this essay: “Were I not a Jew (with the content that I put in the word), I would not be an artist at all, or I would be someone else altogether” (p. 32).

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  • Marcadé, Jean-Claude. “The Russian Element in the work of Chagall.” In Marc Chagall, 100th Anniversary of his Birth: The Marcus Diener Collection. Tel Aviv, Israel: Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 1987.

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    Claims the surreal movements of Chagall’s people stems from ecstatic dance trances in Hasidic culture.

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  • Rajner, Mirjam. “A Parokhet as a Picture: Chagall’s Prayer Desk (1908–1909).” In Jewish Ceremonial Objects in Transcultural Context. Studia Rosenthaliana 37 (2004): 193–222.

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    Rejects Franz Meyer’s interpretation that a Torah ark curtain in Chagall’s painting Prayer Desk was inspired by the private devotional rituals of a wealthy Jewish patron with whom Chagall occasionally vacationed. Rather Rajner groups the painting with the emerging interest in Jewish folk art as exemplified by his teacher Leon Bakst, who decontextualized the ceremonial object for its graphic qualities.

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  • Rajner, Mirjam. “Chagall’s Fiddler.” Ars Judaica 1 (2005): 117–132.

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    Argues that Chagall’s symbol of the fiddler is not rooted in the Jewish folk tradition but more likely references the Russian high-art musical tradition.

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Chagall’s Work Through the Prism of Place

Chagall lived and worked in a number of national contexts, which in turn claimed Chagall as one of their own. In addition, the twin subjects of time and place are a major theme in Chagall’s art. These categories, reflected in Chagall’s work as much as his life, are rather fluid, such as the influence of the French art world on Russian artists and the resonance of Russian tropes in the work of émigré artists in Montparnasse. Chagall’s fame in Russia depended greatly on his reputation in Paris and Berlin, while his images of eastern European Jewish life attracted American Jewish collectors after the war. I have retained these categories despite their permeable boundaries to reflect the dominant trends in Chagall scholarship. Lynton 1985 complicates these categories by demonstrating that although Chagall’s career bloomed in the context of relationships he nurtured in Paris, he preferred to see himself as an independent spirit and relied heavily on religious symbolism that he may have borrowed from Russian symbolism while rejecting the notion that his work showed a symbol system in the hopes of shaping a universalist identity. Rajner 2008 steps outside the thematic of Chagall’s transitions through geographical place to consider the role of conceptual place in the artist’s work, analyzing compositional and iconographic elements that emphasize duality, division, and specific orientation (East vs. West) in his paintings and in so doing say something about identity and displacement in the Jewish experience.

  • Lynton, Norbert. “Chagall Over the Roofs of the World.” In Marc Chagall. Edited by Susan Compton, 20–29. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1985.

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    Discusses Chagall’s resistance to translate his imagery and use of symbols in his desire to be seen as a universal artist. Also discusses his often-unacknowledged relationships with French colleagues Sonia Delaunay, Guillaume Apollinaire, and especially Blaise Cendrars.

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  • Rajner, Mirjam. “Chagall’s Jew in Bright Red.” Ars Judaica 4 (2008): 61–80.

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    Discusses Chagall’s compositional divisions vis-à-vis the symbolic geography of East and West. While the West (America specifically) had typically been understood as a place of refuge for Jews, it was also problematic in terms of Russian identity in which “West” meant hollow capitalism. The notion of East, in turn, gained new positive implication in Chagall’s work, stemming from both Zionist and eastern Russian revolutionary movements.

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Russian Period

Much has been written on the identity politics in Chagall’s work and the varying degrees to which he associated and disassociated himself with aspects of Jewishness and Russiannes (Rajner 2004). Chagall’s early life in Vitebsk in early-20th-century Russia (now Belarus) is an indelible influence on the work he created, such as his use of Russian icons (Friedman 1978) and the anti-Jewish pogroms (Rajner 2004). The influence, however, is usually indirect and collaged with other sources, such as the appropriation of the Russian Orthodox motif of the crucifix alongside the Mendel Beilis blood libel case (Amishai-Maisels 1995–1996). Kamensky 1989 makes much of Chagall’s four-year stay in Paris, as well as his return to Vitebsk, where he was drafted into the Czarist army and during which time he served as Commissar for the Arts in 1918. Apter-Gabriel 1987 explores Chagall’s commitment to Leftist art. Although Chagall’s involvement with the Kultur-Lige was fairly minimal, Bowlt 1981 and Shatskikikh 2001 helpfully situate Chagall among his Yiddishist contemporaries and consider how Leon Bakst’s art school may have exerted influence over Chagall’s early work.

  • Amishai-Maisels, Ziva. “Chagall’s Dedicated to Christ: Sources and Meanings.” Jewish Art 21.22 (1995–1996): 68–94.

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    Looks at Chagall’s 1912 Crucifixion scene as a transition piece between his Russian background and relatively new French artistic setting. Of particular interest is the author’s identification of a bearded figure in the composition as Mendel Beilis, who was accused of ritual murder in Kiev.

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  • Apter-Gabriel, Ruth, ed. Tradition and Revolution: The Jewish Renaissance in Russian Avant-Garde Art in 1912–1928. Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 1987.

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    Essays that thoroughly assess the transitions that Jewish artists were facing during a volatile period in Russia. The catalogue explores the issues and challenges that Chagall navigated as a Jewish artist in a Russian context and includes, alongside contributions by prominent Chagall scholars (Kampf, Amishai-Maisel), scholarship on Chagall’s contemporaries as well as insight into the development of theory in Jewish art.

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  • Bowlt, John. “Art in Exile: The Russian Avant-Garde and the Emigration.” Art Journal 41.3 (1981): 215–221.

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    Reviews the personal (rather than political) reasons that Chagall chose to leave Russia, marking a pivotal point in his career. The essay allows for more understanding of what shaped Chagall’s choices as well as those of his contemporaries and counterparts.

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  • Friedman, Mira. “Icon Painting and Russian Popular Art as Sources of Some Works by Chagall.” Journal of Jewish Art 5 (1978): 94–107.

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    Demonstrates some affinities between Chagall and Russian icon painting. Suggests that Chagall was inspired by and made use of images he saw in the collection at the Alexander II Museum in 1910 (such as the 12th-century Znamenie icon with the fully formed Christ in the pregnant belly of the Virgin).

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  • Goodman, Susan T., ed. Marc Chagall: Early Works from Russian Collections. New York: Third Millennium, 2001.

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    This catalogue contextualizes Chagall’s work within the precarious position Jews held during a tumultuous chapter of Russian history and within the network of Jewish artists Chagall associated with (especially his teacher Yehuda Pen).

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  • Kamensky, Alexander. Chagall: The Russian Years 1907–1922. London: Thames & Hudson, 1989.

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    Originally written in French, Kamensky sheds light on Chagall’s return to Russia in 1914 after his four-year stay in Paris. A useful account of Chagall’s role as Commissar for the Arts in Vitebsk between 1918 and 1921.

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  • Rajner, Mirjam. “The Events of 1905 in Chagall’s Early Works.” Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe 53.2 (2004): 33–57.

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    Argues that despite Chagall’s desire for universalism and abstraction in his art, it is impossible to understand his life without exacting historical context. At the center of her analysis, Rajner demonstrates that the pogroms of 1905 clearly influenced the artist’s character and artistic subjects.

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  • Shatskikikh, Aleksandra. Vitebsk: zhizh’ iskusstva, 1917–1922. Moscow: Iyazyki russkoi kul’tury, 2001.

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    While many scholars turn to the political and social life of Vitebsk during the Revolutionary decades, Shatskikikh uses the careers of several Jewish cultural figures, beginning with Chagall and ending with Mikhail Bakhtin, to paint a rich portrait of the city of Vitebsk.

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French Period

French art history claims France as the country that developed Chagall into an internationally recognized artist during his 1911–1914 stay in Paris, when he produced a large corpus of work (Apollinaire 1991, Venturi 1945, Friedman 1981). Despite this general trend to identify Chagall with the French art world, Le Foll 2002 argues that Chagall’s Russian roots played the larger role in the artist’s development, even during his French period. Silver and Golan 1985 addresses the community of Jewish artists who emigrated from eastern Europe (Chagall, Sonia Delaunay, Mané-Katz, Jacques Lipchitz, and Amadeo Modigliani) and who created the vibrant artistic culture that we today think of as quintessentially French. Chagall’s career gathered momentum until 1937, when his work was ridiculed at the “Degenerate Art” Exhibition in Munich. Chagall fled to the United States in 1941, returning after the war in 1948.

  • Apollinaire, Guillaume. “Les Arts: Marc Chagall (1914).” In Oeuvres en prose completes. Vol. 2. Edited by Pierre Caizergues and Michel Décaudin, 745. Paris: Gallimard, 1991.

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    The art critic and poet Apollinaire championed Chagall by helping him to secure his first important gallery show in Berlin in 1914 and then writing this pathbreaking review. Stressed Chagall’s use of color.

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  • Friedman, Mira. “Le Mariage de Chagall.” Revue de l’Art 52 (1981): 37–40.

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    Friedman looks at the French source for this particular work.

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  • Le Foll, Claire. L’école artistique de Vitebsk, 1897–1923: Eveil et rayonnement autour de Pen, Chagall, et Malevitch. Paris: Harmattan, 2002.

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    Focuses exclusively on Chagall’s paintings and presents Chagall’s French work from the perspective of the roots he established in the artistic schools of Russia.

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  • Silver, Kenneth, and Romy Golan. The Circle of Montparnasse: Jewish Artists in Paris, 1905–1945. New York: Universe, 1985.

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    This Jewish Museum catalogue highlights the community that eastern European Jewish artists created in Paris. Silver coins the term “The Circle of Montparnasse” in this seminal catalogue and positions Chagall in the avant-garde milieu of the 1920s and 1930s.

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  • Venturi, Lionello. Marc Chagall. New York: Pierre Matisse Editions, 1945.

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    Comes from a vantage point of familiarity and personal admiration for the artist, and though this may offer a narrow documentary scope of the artist, it is nonetheless enlightening. Though not as diligent in its attention to analysis of Chagall as an artist within the bounds of various historical influences, Venturi presents a vision of the artist as almost mystical and boundless in an attempt to mirror Chagall’s aesthetics.

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American Period

Together with a number of other Jewish artists, Chagall escaped to the United States with the help of the Emergency Rescue Committee in 1941, but he never learned how to speak English and he quickly returned after the war to France. It was during this period, however, that Chagall saw his work exhibited in major shows in the United States (Sweeney 1946) and enjoyed the patronage of American Jews. Chagall tries to situate himself in the thriving art world of his peers in America (Chagall 1946). Besides the stained-glass commissions for the Art Institute of Chicago, it was American Jews who collected Chagall’s work most avidly in the postwar era, which helped to raise Chagall’s international recognition.

  • Chagall, Marc. “Eleven Europeans in America.” The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin 13.4–5 (1946): 32–34.

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    Chagall comments on his own artwork and also on the historical (post–World War II) context in which he is writing and painting. He sheds light on some of his own aspirations and investigations as a painter, reflecting on terms such as symbolism and mysticism as well as art movements of the modernist period.

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  • Sweeney, James Johnson. Marc Chagall. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1946.

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    Published in lieu of an exhibition catalogue. Looks at the influences that shaped Chagall’s artwork, with particular focus on his years in Russia and Paris, in a format that is biographic rather than more particularly analytic of Chagall’s development as an artist. Though the author pays special attention to certain artworks and delves into their visual language, the text lacks incisive analysis of the arc of Chagall’s career.

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Israeli Period

Chagall visited Palestine for the first time in 1931 at the request of Meir Dizengoff, mayor of Tel Aviv, in support of the mayor’s building of a national museum in the city (Chagall 2000). On subsequent visits, Chagall continued to voice support for the country’s artistic institution-building and presented various museums works of his own art (Amishai-Maisels 1998). Chagall completed two large-scale commissions for Israel: the windows at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center and the interior tapestries and mosaics for Israel’s Knesset. Chagall’s windows were first exhibited in Paris (Cabanne 1961) and then in New York before being installed in Jerusalem, where Chagall delivered a speech on the nature of Jewish peoplehood (Werner 1962). Friedman 1984 looks at Chagall’s use of the figure of Jeremiah to express the yearning for Jewish national autonomy in Israel.

  • Amishai-Maisels, Ziva. “Chagall in the Holy Land: The Real and the Ideal.” In The Real and the Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Art. Edited by Bianca Kühnel, 513–542. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1998.

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    Looks at elision between the Exodus story and Jewish immigration to Jerusalem in Chagall’s tapestries for the Knesset building in Jerusalem.

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  • Cabanne, Pierre. Chagall: Vitraux pour Jerusalem. Paris: Musee Edes Arts Decoratifs, 1961.

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    One of the first catalogues of Chagall’s windows for the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center. Describes Chagall’s windows in near-mystical terms. Includes full-color reproductions.

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  • Chagall, Marc. “A Museum for Tel Aviv.” In Jewish Texts on the Visual Arts. Edited by Vivian Mann, 160–163. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Describes Chagall’s desire for a broader mission statement for the new Tel Aviv Museum. Reproduces an interview in which Chagall discusses his resignation as chair of the committee in charge of acquisition of artworks due to his disapproval of the board’s focus on Jewish art. Ends with Meir Dizengoff’s enthusiastic letter to Chagall following the opening of the museum.

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  • Friedman, Mira. “Marc Chagall’s Portrayal of the Prophet Jeremiah.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 47.3 (1984): 374–391.

    DOI: 10.2307/1482242Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Friedman has written a great deal on Chagall’s various biblical motifs, and in this article she identifies and analyzes the figure of the prophet Jeremiah as an apt symbol for both mourning over destruction and hope for the Jewish national dream.

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  • Werner, Alfred. “Chagall’s Jerusalem Windows.” Art Journal 21.4 (1962): 224–232.

    DOI: 10.2307/774570Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Werner contextualizes Chagall’s turn to the medium of stained glass in church architecture of the 13th century and synagogues of the 20th. Points out some of the anachronisms in Chagall’s biblical imagery. Includes a long passage, translated from Yiddish, of Chagall’s speech at the opening of the Hadassah windows.

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Relationship to Text and Literature

The role of text and literature in art has been one of Chagall’s central concerns, a predilection that distinguished him from other modernists who rejected allegorical painting (Schapiro 2011). Chagall visualized Yiddish idioms and Biblical themes (Chagall 1956, Rajner 2008) as well as French poetry (Rajner 1995–1996). Harshav 2006 extends Chagall’s use of language to a more general intertextuality that he reads into the artist’s work. Rix 1979 argues that Chagall created universal images of love and redemption but that he balanced this seeming modernism with religious and exegetical interpretations of the text in his Song of Song series. Mann 2006 sees this interest in the relationship between text and image as one of the defining characteristics of Chagall’s modernism. Soltes 1998 looks specifically at Chagall’s use of Yiddish.

  • Chagall, Marc. Illustrations for the Bible. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1956.

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    Chagall’s Bible illustrations made between 1929 and 1939 for Ambroise Vollard. Introduction by Meyer Schapiro; text by Jean Wahl. Wahl and Schapiro 2011 present a brief analysis of Chagall’s decisive foray into this thematic, with attention to Chagall’s technique and editorial decisions in his selection of scenes to portray.

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  • Harshav, Benjamin. Marc Chagall and the Lost Jewish World: The Nature of Chagall’s Art and Iconography. New York: Rizolli, 2006.

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    Considers Chagall’s art through his use of the Yiddish textual and oral traditions to show both the Jewishness of Chagall and the modernism of Yiddish. The analysis does not cover the second half of the 20th century.

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  • Mann, Barbara E. “Visions of Jewish Modernism.” Modernism/Modernity 13.4 (2006): 673–699.

    DOI: 10.1353/mod.2006.0087Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emphatically ties Jewish textuality to aesthetic modernism in the work of Chagall, Moses Soyer, and Chaim Nachman Bialik.

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  • Rajner, Mirjam. “Chagall, the Artist and the Poet.” Jewish Art 21.22 (1995–1996): 40–67.

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    Shows the influence of literary symbols in French symbolist poetry, such as the myth of Orpheus, on Chagall’s painterly motifs.

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  • Rajner, Mirjam. “Chagall’s Jew in Bright Red.” Ars Judaica 4 (2008): 61–80.

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    Discusses the significance of Chagall’s return to Vitebsk in 1914 and his continued attention to Jewish identity and to Jewish plight. Makes specific reference to Chagall’s allusion to the Lekh Lekha segment (“Get thee out”) in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Genesis in which God tells Abraham to leave his country and establish himself and his progeny in a new land.

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  • Rix, Daphna. “Literal and Exegetic Interpretations in Chagall’s Song of Songs.” Journal of Jewish Art 6 (1979): 118–126.

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    Analyzes Chagall’s Songs of Songs series, concluding that the series is unified through a development of the themes of love and redemption.

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  • Schapiro, Meyer. “Chagall’s Illustrations for the Bible.” In Modern Art, 19th and 20th Centuries, Selected Papers. Edited by Meyer Schapiro, 121–134. New York: George Braziller, 2011.

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    In this 1956 essay, Schapiro celebrates Chagall’s openness to biblical content in an age that often limited modern art to form. Discusses Chagall’s decision to render God through the letters of his name.

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  • Soltes, Ori Z. “Language, Art and Identity: Yiddish in Art from Chagall to Shalom of Safed.” Studies in Jewish Civilization 9 (1998): 17–36.

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    Soltes posits that the interweaving of language into Jewish art was prompted by the late-19th-century debate on which of the Jewish languages would best reflect the Land of the People. Suggests that this is the reason why Yiddish words, letters, and idioms are hidden in Chagall’s work.

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Christological Themes

While Chagall’s national residence affected his subjects and styles, he produced biblical subjects throughout his long career, and most of his biblical figures appear in contemporary eastern European dress. Chagall’s use of Christian themes and symbols has been of interest to both art historians, who saw in it the Jewish recourse to Western masterpieces, and Jewish studies scholars, who saw it as a lens for interreligious dialogue. Amishai-Maisels 1989 looks at the image of Jesus and the crucifix in relationship to Jewish self-consciousness in the context of Russian Orthodoxy and the Holocaust, respectively. Amishai-Maisels 2001 complicates the relationship between Jewish artists and the Jewishness of the art they produce by looking at the widespread use of Christ by Chagall and other modern Jewish artists while Friedman 1989 examines the motif of the Tree of Jesse to demonstrate Chagall’s virtuoso handling of religious iconography for visual autobiography. Rosen 2009 understands Chagall’s sourcing of Christological motifs as a way to build a lineage for himself rooted in the enlightened West rather than that of his Russian or Jewish background. Hoffman 2007 looks more broadly at the use of Jesus in Yiddish literature, concluding that the use of Chagall’s Jesus was not related to intercultural dialogue but to the establishment of Jewish self-identity.

  • Amishai-Maisels, Ziva. “Christological Symbolism of the Holocaust.” In Remembering for the Future. Vol. 2. Edited by Yehuda Bauer, Alice Eckardt, Franklin H. Littell, et al., 1657–1671. Oxford: Pergamon, 1989.

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    In this volume, the author expands her discussion from Chagall’s use of Christological symbolism to a broader recourse to this body of symbols by Jewish artists working after the Holocaust.

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  • Amishai-Maisels, Ziva. “Origins of the Jewish Jesus.” In Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art. Edited by Mathew Baigell and Milly Heyd, 51–86. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

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    Surveys the widespread use of the “Jewish Jesus” motif in modern Jewish art, including examples by Moses Ezekiel, Mark Antokolsky, Maurycy Gottlieb, Max Liebermann, Ilya Repin, and Ephraim Moses Lilien, noting that their reproductions in the journal Ost und West had a profound influence on Chagall.

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  • Friedman, Mira. “The Tree of Jesse and the Tree of Life in Chagall.” Jewish Art 15 (1989): 61–80.

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    Explores Chagall’s multifarious uses of traditional iconographic formulas, specifically the Christian motif of the Tree of Jesse and the Jewish image of the Tree of Life, for secular and even autobiographical imagery.

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  • Hoffman, Matthew. From Rebel to Rabbi: Reclaiming Jesus and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture. Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

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    Explores the Jewish intellectual reevaluation of Jesus within the process of Jewish cultural modernization.

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  • Rosen, Aaron. Imagining Jewish Art: Encounters with the Masters in Chagall, Guston, and Kitaj. London: Legenda, 2009.

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    Explores how Jewish artists interact with the Western artistic tradition. In the case of Chagall, Rosen explores his use of Matthias Gruenwald’s Isenheim Alterpiece.

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Theater and Music

Chagall worked for the theater designing murals, sets, and costumes in three distinct periods: the state-sponsored Moscow State Jewish Theater (GOSET) in the early 1920s (Compton 1992, Harshav 2008) and backdrops for the New York Ballet Theater in the 1940s as well as murals for the Paris Opéra in the 1960s. Chagall’s contribution to the Moscow State Jewish Theater informs not only his own artistic achievements but also the success and failure of Soviet nationalist policies (“Jewish Theater under Stalinism” 2005). Goodman 2009 paints a vivid portrait of the artists that worked for the theater, including Natan Al’tman, Isaac Rabinovich, Robert Falk, and others. In addition to his work for the theater, Chagall also made the modern and secular institution of theater one of his most popular subjects in his art. Rajner 2005 points to a much more pronounced Russian identity in what has been understood as Chagall’s folk emanations.

  • Compton, Susan. “Chagall’s Auditorium: ‘An Identity Crisis of Tragic Dimensions.’” In Marc Chagall and the Jewish Theater. Edited by Benjamin Harshav, 1–13. New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1992.

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    Discussion of Chagall’s conflicted attitude toward his involvement with the Russian theater.

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  • Goodman, Susan Tumarkin, ed. Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

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    A valuable exhibition catalogue from the New York Jewish Museum with essays by top scholars of Jewish Russian culture: Zvi Gitelman, Vladislav Ivanov, Jeffrey Veidlinger, and Benjamin Harshav. Goodman’s introductory essay helpfully synthesizes hitherto independent research from various fields on the tensions of Russian Jewish identity in the decade after the Revolution.

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  • Harshav, Benjamin. The Moscow Yiddish Theater: Art on Stage in the Time of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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    Making use of the post-Soviet access to Chagall’s work for the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, Harshav recreates the social, political, and aesthetic milieu in which Chagall created his all-encompassing theater murals and their reception.

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  • Jewish Theater under Stalinism: Moscow State Jewish Theater (GOSET) and Moscow State Jewish Theater School (MGETU). New York: IDC, 2005.

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    Subscription-based digital archive of documents from the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art on the Moscow State Jewish Theater and the affiliated school. The scope of the collection ranges from the Kremlin’s policy toward Jews and Jewish culture from 1919 until 1949 to the work of individual artists associated with GOSET, such as Chagall, Natan Al’tman, Isaac Rabinovich, Robert Falk, Aleksandr Tysher, and others.

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  • Rajner, Mirjam. “Chagall’s Fiddler.” Ars Judaica 1 (2005): 117–132.

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    Offers a revisionist interpretation of Chagall’s rendering of symbols, commonly associated with Jewish folk music (such as klezmer), as more likely references to what Chagall saw as the superior Russian musical culture.

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