Marc Chagall’s return or Biblical scenes in avant-garde style

National Art Museum of Belarus gains graphic works by world famous artist
By Victor Kharitinov

Fifty, seventy or even a hundred years may pass but Marc Chagall’s symbolic return to his native homeland (originally Vitebsk) is evident in the latest acquisitions of the National Art Museum: two graphic pieces, created in 1967, entitled Way of the Cross and Vision of Apocalypse. These were donated during a solemn event dedicated to the 125th anniversary of the birth of the world famous painter. The works are 24th exemplars from a series of 35, and are signed by Chagall in his usual pencil, in the bottom right corner. Of course, only those prints made directly by the painter are considered to be original. Marc Chagall published the given reproductions himself and graphical pieces have been acquired at Christie’s auction house in London.

Previously, the National Art Museum of Belarus lacked a single work by Marc Chagall, with visitors only able to view his outstanding creativity via temporary exhibitions and from reproductions (mostly from the Marc Chagall Museum in Vitebsk).
The solemn ceremony of donation to the National Art Museum was attended by Belarus’ Culture Minister, Pavel Latushko, and the Israeli Ambassador to Belarus, H.E. Mr. Yosef Shagal. Moreover, a special ‘first day’ envelope was issued to mark the jubilee of the famous avant-garde painter while the Marc Chagall. Unreal Reality documentary, by the Belarusian Video Centre, was premiered.

“Today, we’re seeing a landmark cultural event for our country; the museum has acquired works by Marc Chagall — who justifiably belongs to Belarusian culture. This will definitely fill a gap which existed in our art. Moreover, it’s important that the development of national culture is supported by private sponsors,” noted Mr. Latushko at the event.

The National Art Museum has many times organised and hosted major exhibition projects devoted to Marc Chagall. However, until now, it boasted not a single original work by the master. The two graphic pieces, purchased in 2011 from the Christie’s auction in London, were donated to the museum by Belgazprombank’s shareholders, who have been creating a thematic corporate collection of paintings entitled Belarus-born Artists of the Paris School.

Belgazprombank currently holds over 40 works, including those by Michel Kikoine, Pinchus Kremegne, Ossip Lubitch, Ossip Zadkine, Sam Zarfin and Chaim Soutine. Businesses have stepped in to help the state fill gaps in the Belarusian national art collection.

Belarus’ Culture Minister, Pavel Latushko, noted during the solemn ceremony of donating the two works, “In recent years, the state has allocated significant funds to acquiring treasures which belong to the Belarusian nation. It’s vital that businesses join in this endeavour since, together, we can achieve so much more.” Over the last three years, the state has allocated over Br10bn to acquiring such cultural treasures. “I hope that more private investors will join in returning Belarusian cultural treasures to our country,” underlined the Minister.

Belarusian collectors hope to open a museum of private collections in Minsk. Meanwhile, Victor Babariko, the Chairman of Belgazprombank’s Board, tells us that, in September, the National Art Museum will be hosting an exhibition featuring great artists, with all works on loan from private collections. Over 100 works are to go on show, including those by painters from the Paris school. “Creativity has three elements: a subject, a creator and spectators. We’ll see whether the exhibition draws a significant audience, since this will indicate whether we need such a museum,” explains Mr. Babariko. Belarus’ only museum of private collections was located in Vitebsk but closed in July.

Marc Chagall had clear links to Belarus, having lived in Vitebsk, so it seems bizarre that, until now, contemporary Belarus has lacked a single original work by the artist. Perhaps, it would have been advantageous for us to have negotiated earlier for his works.

Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (thought to have written: ‘A poet in Russian is more than just a poet’) met Chagall in France in the 1960s, when Nikita Khrushchev was heading the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. He wrote that Chagall felt great nostalgia for his homeland and that he felt ready to give all his works in return for a small house in Vitebsk to end his days. Mr. Yevtushenko persuaded him not to return, saying that Vitebsk had changed since the 1920s, when Chagall had lived there, and that he would be disappointed.

We cannot know the truth of these words and who knows what might have happened if Yevtushenko had encouraged Chagall to return. He never did find his way back to Vitebsk. However, his works are now starting to return; it is a good sign.
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