Few artists are as beloved and as acclaimed as Marc Chagall. His life and his art speak to us across time and across experiences. Born in 1887 in Vitebsk (present day Belarus), Chagall in his long life and career saw the upheavals of the first half of the 20th century. Some of these include the October Revolution of 1917 to World War II. It was only by the skin of his teeth that he escaped Nazi-occupied France with the help of Alfred Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and journalist Varian Fry. Chagall lived some of the most traumatic experiences, and yet, within his art, the joyous and sensual colors express a humble appreciation of life and all its possibilities.
Chagall’s work occupies the modernist style of the early 20th century, inhabiting styles and movements as disparate as Cubism, Symbolism, and Surrealism. What makes his work unique is his ability to filter these movements through his lens, combining traditional narrative and figuration with a radical sense of color. Moreover, his Jewish religion and identity, marked from within the community and by outsiders including the Russian Empire in which he lived, colored his art. This mixing and synthesizing is held together by emotions, particularly of love – love of his wife, love of his home, both natural and adopted, and love of painting.
March Chagall painted En Été toward the end of his life and in it there is an explosion of some of his most enduring symbols, themes, and hallmarks. Even in these twilight years, Chagall continued to push his art. Chagall scratched the surface of the painting, adding another layer of depth to the work.
The French title translates to “in summer” in English and foregrounds our approach to the painting, one of an artist still in full command of his visionary ability. Always known for his color, this work pulses with blues, greens, and reds that swirl in surreal planes. It is not just a painting about summer but also of summer – the emotions it evokes on the canvas and within the viewer. After a long life marked by turbulent events, the painting is a beautiful meditation of the bliss and elation that summer brings.
Figures occupy the surface moving in dream-like ways – strolling, flying, playing. Dotted throughout are horses, a favored theme. The horse connects him to a history of art in which the horse is a symbol for so many different things, from the cave paintings of Lascaux to the statues of China to modern artists like Elaine de Kooning. In the lower left is a fiddler, another cherished symbol that appears through Chagall’s body of work. Music was an important component for Chagall, popping up over again in different ways. But, the specific use of the fiddler was deeply important to the artist, pointing to his Jewish identity and culture. In fact, his use of the fiddler influenced the creators of the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, and both Chagall and the musical’s title capture an ethereal and whimsical quality – a precarious joy in the face of trauma.
One of the giants of 20th century art, Chagall created work that has influenced generations and brought joy to many. The lines of his fanciful figures and bold use of color dance across the surface of the canvas. Bubbling beneath the aesthetically pleasing surface are symbols and emotions. Many of these symbols were deeply personal to Chagall but in their specificity, Chagall created works of creative depth that resonate with audiences across the globe.
Marc Chagall, “The Fiddler (Le violoniste)”, 1912-1913, Stedelijk Museum
Marc Chagall, “Study for Aleko’s Horse”, 1953-56, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 in., Seattle Art Museum
Marc Chagall, “Orphée”, 1969, stone and glass mosaic, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Marc Chagall in his studio
Marc Chagall in 1969
Top Results at Auction
Comparable Paintings Sold at Auction
- Same size
- Similar date and medium
- Sold recently for over $400,000
- Same size, medium, and year
- Sold for $592,000 in 2014 and Chagall’s market has increased since then
- Same size and medium
- Similar composition
- Sold for over $542,000 at auction 12 years ago, and the market has improved since then