Madrid.- The first retrospective on the Russian artist Marc Chagall to be organised in Spain will open in February at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fundación Caja Madrid. More than 150 works from public and private collections and institutions around the world will be on display in the two venues, offering a complete overview of the career of one of the leading artists of the 20th century: a unique creative figure with a highly distinctive style who played a key role in the history of modern art. The MoMA and the Guggenheim in New York, the Kunsthaus Zurich, the Kunstmuseum Berne, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and Tate Modern in London are among the twenty international museums that have lent key works from their collections, to be seen alongside others from private collections.
Particularly important is the loan from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which is sending 20 works, and that from the artist’s family, which has been particularly generous in this respect. The result is a large and comprehensive group of masterpieces selected by the exhibition’s curator, Jean-Lous Prat, President of the Comité Chagall. Together they will make this exhibition a major and unrepeatable artistic event and one that will offer visitors a unique opportunity to appreciate the wide-ranging and incomparable oeuvre of this essential figure. “Chagall” will be on view at both venues from February 14th to May 20th.
Marc Chagall developed a highly expressive and colourist pictorial style that was closely linked to his own life and to the religious and popular traditions of the Russian Jewish community. Chagall combined elements from Cubism, Fauvism and Robert Delaunay’s Orphism to create a personal style that is difficult to categorise. Born in the small Russian town of Vitebsk, Chagall’s long life (he lived to be almost 100) was marked by the major historic events of the first half of the 20th century. A tireless creator and one always open to new experiences and to learning, Chagall’s output is rich and varied. Using his particular and unique style, he was permanently open to exploring new techniques (oil, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, stained glass, etc) and to undertaking new projects. One important section of this exhibition, for example, is devoted to his significant activitie s as a book illustrator. Throughout his life Chagall was surrounded by poets and writers who were his friends and with whom he maintained close and mutually creative relations. Breton, Malraux, Cendrars and Apollinaire were among those who considered him a “literary painter” and it is evident that Chagall loved literature, particularly the message of freedom contained within words, which he was able to enrich with his fantastical and colourful compositions.
Chagall was essentially a master of colour; his tones vibrate in different intensities and function to highlight the subjects of his paintings. His blues, greens, reds and yellows fill with life his real or imaginary characters, who inhabit a special universe of their own. Everything is possible in this constantly surprising world based on real or imagined stories: a violinist, a rabbi, two lovers, an acrobat, a landscape and a wide range of fantastical animals fill his compositions. In this world, colours and surprising figures and animals come together in previously unknown ways, resulting in a unique combination that made Chagall a forerunner of Surrealism, as that movement’s theoretician, André Breton, noted: “With Chagall, metaphor made its triumphant entry into modern painting.”
In the summer of 1911, the young Chagall arrived in Paris from the remote provincial city of Vitebsk in Russia with the aim of making his way in the international capital of the art world at that date. He made friends with the painters Léger, Modigliani and Soutine and with the poets André Salmon, Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire among others. Over the next few years he exhibited at the Salon d’automne and at the Salon des Indépendants. Through Apollinaire, Chagall met the Berlin art dealer Herwarth Walden who chose three of his works for the first Herbstsalon in Berlin in 1913. Chagall held his first solo exhibition in Walden’s gallery in 1914. Accustomed to Expressionism, the German public received his works with enthusiasm and Chagall progressed from being a young and talented painter to one who enjoyed international recognition. From Berlin the artist went back to his native city where he was surprised by the outbreak of World War I. In 1915 he married his fiancé Bella Rosenfeld and following the Russian Revolution was employed as Director of the Vitebsk Art School for two years. Due to differences of opinion with Kazimir Malevich he was obliged to leave the academy and in 1920 began to work for the State Jewish Theatre in Moscow for which he created sets and costume designs. In 1922 Chagall left Russia for ever and after a short period in Berlin settled in France in 1923. He lived there for the rest of his life with the exception of a brief period between 1941 and 1948 when he lived in the USA in order to avoid deportation by the Nazis.
It was during this period, in 1946, that the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a retrospective exhibition of his work that fully established his international reputation. Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza acquired his first painting by Chagall, “The Madonna of the Village”, in 1965, followed by three further exceptional works that are now part of the Museum’s Permanent Collection, namely “The Cockerel”, “The Grey House” and “Nude”. In one of the biographies of the family, the Baron recalled: “I once asked Chagall why he always painted cows playing the violin in the skies in his paintings. Very simply, he replied that he had grown up in the countryside and had therefore always been surrounded by cows, ‘which is why I always paint cows in the sky’”. The present exhibition at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fundación Caja Madrid follows a chronological order. The first part, “The Path of Poetry”, runs from Chagall’s earliest years in Russia and his early period in Paris to his enforced exile in the USA and includes his experiences in revolutionary Russia and his return to France in 920. The second part, “The Great Play of Colour”, to be shown at the exhibition space of Caja Madrid, analyses Chagall’s artistic evolution from 1950 onwards, focusing on the principal themes within his work in his final decades including the Bible and the Circus, his relationships with contemporary poets and his sculptures and ceramics.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Spanish), is one of the three Madrid museums that make up the “Golden Triangle of Art”, which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofia (modern and contemporary) galleries. The collections’s roots lie in the privately owned Thyssen-Bonremisza collection, once the second largest private art collection in the world (after the British Royal Collection). The collection started in the 1920s as a private collection by Heinrich, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon (1875–1947). In a reversal of the movement of European paintings to the United States during this period, one of the Baron’s sources was the collections of American millionaires coping with the Great Depression and inheritance taxes, from which he acquired such exquisite old master paintings as Ghirlandaio’s ‘Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni’ (once in the Morgan Library) and Carpaccio’s ‘Knight’ (from the collection of Otto Kahn). The collection was later expanded by Heinrich’s son Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921–2002), who re-assembled most of the works from his relatives’ collections (distributed after his father’s death) and proceeded to acquire large numbers of new works. In 1985, the Baron married Carmen Cervera (a former Miss Spain 1961) and introduced her to art-collecting. Carmen’s influence was decisive in persuading the Baron to decide on the future of his collection and cede the collection to Spain. When Baron Thyssen decided to open his collection to the public, he initially tried to have his museum in the Villa Favorita in Switzerland expanded, when this proved impossible, a Europe-wide search for a new was home started. The competition was won in 1986 when the Spanish government came to an agreement to provide a home for the collection (the 19th century Villahermosa Palace close to the Prado in Madrid) and fund the museum in return for the loan of the collection for a minimum of nine and a half years. Pritzker prize winning Spanish architect, Rafael Moneo was employed to redesign and extend the building and the museum opened in 1992.
However, so impressed were the Thyssen-Bornemiszas with the building and Spain’s commitment to the collection, that even before it opened, they were negotiating with the Spanish government to make the museum permanent. In 1993, the Spanish government agreed to buy the collection (valued at up to 1.5 billion dollars) for $350 million and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum became a permanent fixture in Madrid. The museum currently houses two collections from the Thyssen-Bornemiszas, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, acquired by the Spanish government from Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza on permanent display since the museum opened in 1992 and the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, owned by the baron’s widow and held by the museum since 2004 on loan. These two collections comprise over one thousand works of art (mostly paintings), with which the museum offers a stroll through the history of European painting, from its beginning in the 13th century to the close of the 20th century. The Baroness remains involved with the museum, deciding the salmon pink tone of the interior and in May 2006 campaigning against plans to redevelop the Paseo del Prado as she thought the works and traffic would damage the collection and the museum’s appearance. A collection of works from the museum is housed in Barcelona in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Visit the museum’s website at … http://www.museothyssen.org