Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was born Moishe Segal into a Jewish Lithuanian family In Liozna near the city of Vitebsk, in modern day Belarus. The oldest of 9 children, his father was a fisherman who lived a hard life trying to provide for the family. His interest in art began when he saw a fellow school mate drawing and became so interested that he took the advice of the boy and went and copied any picture he could from books. From 1906-1910 he lived in St. Petersburg where he studied art. In 1910 he moved to Paris to continue his study. Before the beginning of WWI, he returned to Russia to marry Bella Rosenfeld and soon had a daughter, Ida. He had planned to leave shortly thereafter, but the borders were closed. Instead, he moved to Moscow in 1915 and by the October Revolution of 1917, he had become one of Russia’s most highly regarded artists and a member of the avant-garde. He founded the Vitebsk Arts College instead of accepting a position as a Commissar of Visual Arts for the country. In Moscow, Chagall exhibited his works and became a stage designer for the State Jewish Chamber Theater. Because of the hardships of living in post-revolutionary Russia, he returned to France in 1923 and stayed until 1941. While in France, he illustrated books such as Gogol’s Dead Souls. In 1926, he had his first exhibition in the United Sates. With the coming to power of the Nazis, modern art was targeted and labeled “degenerate,” and Chagall’s works were among those deemed unsuitable for Nazi society. After the Nazi invasion of France, Chagall remained in Vichy unaware that Jews were being rounded up and deported to concentration camps from which they would never return. Luckily, Chagall had his name added to the list of prominent artists that should be extricated and saved from France by the U.S. in 1941. Chagall remained in the U.S. until 1947 when he returned to France where he remained until his death in 1985.
Chagall’s works span every artistic medium there is. In these works, Chagall expressed his Jewishness and his love of his home town Vitebsk. The blending of reality and fantasy with vivid colors became his trademark. His interest in musicians and circuses are apparent in many of his works. Cats, too, play a major part in many of his paintings. Seen as simple companions and symbolic of women and domesticity, Chagall’s love of cats is undeniable.