MARC Chagall is one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists and there has never been a better time to fall in love with his work. The exhibition at Tate Liverpool is excellent and continues until Sunday 6 October but there is another chance to catch a bit of Chagall closer to home.
Packed together into a small room, the frames are so closely hung, that it is like a smorgasbord of art, a veritable feast for the eyes. No empty sterile walls or minimalism here.
Manchester Jewish Museum is holding an exhibition called Chagall, Soutine and the School of Paris. The Museum, which is located on Cheetham Hill Road, shows the work of Chagall alongside that of his contemporaries in the School of Paris.
Manchester Jewish Museum is the perfect location to discover more about this artistic movement; the gallery upstairs explains how Manchester’s Jewish community began to increase rapidly with the migration of Eastern European Jews fleeing the pogroms and anti-Jewish laws of the mid to late nineteenth century. Yet it was from this same Jewish migration that the School of Paris was formed.
Consisting of a group of Jewish émigré artists, all of whom were born in Russia or countries within the Russian Pale of Settlement such as modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, the School of Paris had a profound influence on twentieth century art.
Their exile from their homeland with all the memories and longing that entailed, and their quest for personal and artistic freedom in Paris, is a common thread in many of the pieces on display.
The works are loosely organised into portraits and figurative work on one side and landscapes on the other. The exhibition had featured Chagall’s Apocalypse en Lilas which has since been shipped off to New York for another exhibition.
However, you can still see a colour etching of Chagall’s Praying Jew and an etching of his Le Cheval et L’Âne (The Horse and The Donkey).
Le Cheval et L’Âne, which was commissioned to illustrate La Fontaine’s Fables, is very simple but echoes the images used in Chagall’s paintings influenced by Russian folklore.
Praying Jew is more immediately arresting. The minimal use of colour and the abstract background really serve to emphasise the more naturalistic depiction of the character.
Another of the big-name paintings on show is Chaim Soutine’s La Soubrette. A classic of 1930s figure painting, a maid in uniform is shown against a dark, formless background. Her eyes are downcast and resigned but her pink face shines out of the darkness and there is a defiant cast to her nose and chin. Chaim specialised in painting ordinary people, in their working clothes but he gives them personality and life.
As well as the household names, there are some outstanding canvasses by lesser-known members of the School of Paris, particularly the oils.
Chana Kowalska’s Shetl evokes the way of life in the little Jewish towns of Russia and Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century. The bright, lollipop colours of the trees and buildings at first suggest an innocence and a naïveté but the receding buildings disappearing over the horizon show an awareness that the way of life depicted is disappearing. It recaptures memories of an earlier time in a similar way to Chagall’s evocations of Russian village life.
All in all, there are 20 works of art by seventeen Jewish artists. Packed together into a small room, the frames are so closely hung, that it is like a smorgasbord of art, a veritable feast for the eyes. No empty sterile walls or minimalism here. With a nondescript, stained, blue carpet underfoot it seems hard to believe the quality of this exhibition in a small room in Cheetham Hill. But seeing is believing.
Manchester Jewish Museum has seen a 42 per cent increase in visitors since the exhibition started. Be one of them.
Chagall, Soutine & the School of Paris is on until Sunday 24 November.
Be warned, Manchester Jewish Museum is closed on Saturdays for the Jewish Sabbath. The museum is at 190 Cheetham Hill Rd, Manchester, M8 8LW.
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