Anniversary of Chagall’s birth celebrated in Vitebsk

Exhibition of master’s original works being prepared for Minsk
By Viktar Korbut

In July, the 125th anniversary of Marc Chagall’s birth will be celebrated, with festivities held in his original hometown of Vitebsk. In fact, the home in which the famous artist was raised remains standing today.

This street, this house
Poet David Simanovich is the initiator of annual Chagall readings, the opening of a museum dedicated to the great man and a monument to the artist. He recalls a time when Chagall’s house in Dzerzhinsky Street (now, Pokrovskaya) was unknown to most. He tells us, “It looked different than it does today, with a neglected courtyard and only a plaque bearing the inscription ‘11 Dzerzhinsky Street’. It turned out that Chagall was associated with several addresses in Vitebsk.”

In the 1990s, the local authorities in Vitebsk joined intelligentsia from across Belarus in initiating a series of actions to revive the name of Chagall in Vitebsk. Some of his works went on display and a creative outdoor workshop was organised. For the first days of Chagall, People’s Writer of Belarus Vasil Bykov made a special trip; the second such event became international and, in 1992, a monument to the wonderful artist appeared in the city. Meanwhile, some suggested renaming Dzerzhinsky Street as Chagall Street. Mr. Simanovich gave wise advice, saying, “Does it sound right that Chagall lived in Marc Chagall Street? No. The street should be given the name it bore when the artist lived there — Pokrovskaya.”
The house-museum in Pokrovskaya Street officially opened in 1997.

Here lived Malevich
Interestingly, Chagall’s most famous period of life in Vitebsk is connected not with his childhood, but with 1918, when he became the head of the local Art School, nurturing other talents of Belarusian and world art. From 1918 to 1923, he not only worked but lived with such well-known artists as Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky.

The Art School building remains, at 5a Pravda Street, having survived WWII (despite Vitebsk being heavily damaged). Old photos show that just a few houses stood in Pravda Street, with the Art School among them. From 1945, the building was occupied by various economic organisations and changed its internal appearance several times. In 1998, the Vitebsk Centre of Modern Art moved into several rooms of the historic building and, in July 2011, took over the whole house. In 2013, restoration of the original facade is planned, if funds can be raised.

From Paris — home
At the beginning of June, the 22nd International Chagall Readings were held in Vitebsk, devoted to the history of the Vitebsk People’s Art School from 1918 to 1923, as well as to the future of this unusual place in the city.

On July 7th, the traditional holiday At Marc and Bella’s will be held in Vitebsk — a beautiful show in Pokrovskaya Street. On July 8th, Vitebsk — City of Artists is to be organised: a huge outdoor workshop. Vitebsk has launched various art schools since Chagall’s times, training the creative professions. Two Vitebsk universities teach artists, fashion designers and advertising specialists. Meanwhile, an exhibition of original works by Chagall is planned for Minsk.

“Works by the world famous artist born in Vitebsk will be on display at the National Art Museum of Belarus,” notes Belarus’ Culture Minister, Pavel Latushko. “In October, there will be several works by Chagall at the museum, thanks to the support of one of the major banks, which has purchased works by Belarusian artists whose lives were connected to the Paris school. Marc Chagall is among them. Negotiations are being conducted with a museum in Jerusalem, with 92 original works by Chagall to come to Minsk at the end of the year.”
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