Page 92 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
The author of this richly illustrated book links together four Jews
who had left Eastern or Southern Europe to pursue the practice
of art in Paris. But only one of them, Soutine, was truly an
Expressionist. Chagall has been claimed by both Expressionists
and Surrealists, but he is difficult to be put into any school.
Making full use of Chagall’s autobiography,
Ma Vie
, d’Ancona
notes: “There is, perhaps, no other example of an artist who, like
Chagall, has remained so closely connected to the environment,
and the impressions of his childhood.”
D’Ancona appends to his four biographies a chapter “Expres­
sionism and Jewish A rt.” Curiously, he flatly denies that there
is such a thing as Jewish art. Chagall’s Jewish subject matter
does not impress him: “Were this sufficient to make of him a
representative of Jewish art, then Rembrandt would be given the
same label. Besides, when Chagall has passed from the Old to
the New Testament, he has given us some of the most powerful
interpretations the Christian drama has inspired in an artist of
our time.”
* * *
Chagall’s own writings, apart from his autobiography, are
limited to brief statements that appeared in Russian, French or
Hebrew papers, and to some poems. His autobiography, orig­
inally written in Yiddish, was translated into French by Bella
Chagall, and appeared in Paris in 1931. Excerpts in English
translation appeared in the New York magazine
View
(January,
1946) and in
Commentary
(April, 1946), as well as in the Pitman
Gallery album.
An anthology,
The Works of the Mind
(Chicago University
Press, 1947) contains the text of a lecture by Chagall on his
own work. It is extremely valuable because it refutes certain
time-honored false notions about himself. Contrary to common
belief, the influence Russian religious art exerted upon him was
no greater than that of Russian folk art: “I recognized the quality
o f some great creations of the icon tradition. . . But this was
essentially a religious, an orthodox (Christian) art; and, as such,
it remained strange to me.”
Against misinterpretations of the springs of his art: “However
fantastic or illogical the construction of my paintings may appear,
I should be horrified to think of them as having a mixture of
automatism.”
In defense of mysticism: “Some people are wrongly afraid of
the term ‘mystical,’ to which they give a meaning that is too