In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marc Chagall

  • Introduction
  • Jewish Art Surveys
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Jewish Studies Marc Chagall
Maya Balakirsky Katz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0068


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.

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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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