As part of the museum's "Art in Public Places" program, MAMA was happy to to present Marc Chagall's "Drawings For The Bible" series in a local Grass Valley establishment.
Russian-born painter and designer, Marc Chagall (1887-1985), established a reputation as one of the most eminent and best-loved artists among 20th century modern artists. His work was dominated by two rich sources of imagery; memories of his family life and folklore of his early years in Russia; and the Bible.
The drawings for the Bible were commissioned in 1930 by Ambroise Vollard, a Parisian art dealer and publisher of deluxe art books. Although he could have completed the project in France, Chagall used the assignment as an excuse to travel to Palestine to experience for himself the people, the landscape and the sacred, historic places. He felt at home in Palestine where many spoke Yiddish and Russian.
By 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, he had finished 66 images. However Vollard died that same year and when the series was finally completed in 1956, it was published by Edition Tériade.
As Chagall's friend and biographer, the artist Baal-Teshuva wrote, "the illustrations were stunning and met with great acclaim." Once again Chagall had shown himself to be one of the 20th century's most important graphic artists.
Although Chagall was familiar with the works of the old masters, especially Rembrandt's portrayals of Biblical themes, his depictions are independent of all previous iconography and the traditional conventions. Rather, Chagall based his etchings on his personal memories and his impressions from his trip to Palestine.
He revisited biblical scenes again over the years and Chagall's Museum of the Biblical Message, which opened in Nice in 1972, displays his Biblical Message cycle. The wings of the angels portrayed in these biblical scenes, extend nearly from head to toe, affirming the potential to soar, as is typical of many Chagall figures.
His love of the Bible is summed up as follows:
"Since my earliest childhood I have been captivated by the Bible. It has always seemed to me the greatest source of poetry of all time. Ever since then I have sought its reflection in life and art. The Bible is like an echo of nature, and this is the secret I have tried to convey." Chagall's drawings for the Bible consists of a total of 105 plates. The illustrated scenes come from twelve books of the Bible including The Book of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel. Chagall begins with the Creation, continues through the cycle of Abraham and his line of descent, concluding with many images pertaining to the later prophets Author Jean Leymarie writes that Chagall "transcended the limits of his century. He has unveiled possibilities unsuspected by an art that had lost touch with the Bible, and in doing so he has achieved a wholly new synthesis of Jewish culture long ignored by painting." He adds that although Chagall's art cannot be confined to religion, his "most moving and original contributions, what he called 'his message,' are those drawn from religious or, more precisely, Biblical sources."
The images in this exhibit show the almost lost art form of the heliogravure. Helio comes from the Greek word meaning sun while gravure means engraving.
Developed in France in the 1830s by Nicephore Niepce, this art printing process involves transposing an existing art image to a flat copper plate which then is etched rather deeply with acids. Through a series of acid baths in various degrees of strengths and for various lengths of time, the process is capable of producing exquisite subtleties in black and white unlike any other medium.
These heliogravures were done by Draeger Freres for Verve, the distinguished French art magazine published by Efstratios Teriade. The magazine, a quarterly review of arts and letters, was lavish in design and challenging in content. Teriade's view of the world of art and literature was personal, bold and compelling. The 38 issues that proceeded through Europe's war-torn years and ended abruptly in 1960 were a promenade of covers and interior art by Chagall, Bonard, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, and other distinctive artists of the Paris School.
"When I paint the wings of an angel, these wings are also flames, just as they are also thoughts or desires .... We must do away with the idolatry of the image ..... Judge me on my form and color, on my vision of the world, and not on isolated symbols. One should never paint a picture on the basis of symbols. Rather than starting out from a symbol, one should end with one, for symbolism is inevitable. Any absolutely authentic work of art automatically possesses its symbolism."