Shagal walked down the City

In modern Vitebsk remained just several houses, eternalized in the canvases of Mark Shagal. Including the house on Pokrovskaya Street, which in the beginning of the 1900’s built the artist’s father and where Mark spent his youth. In 1997 a museum was opened here, where the city had been hosted its admirers of his great talent for ten years already. Household articles, copies of archive documents and the artist’s work tell about the destiny of Mark Shagal and the family of his parents. But, in opinion of the museum’s director, a historian Liudmila Khmelnitskaya, a Vitebsk period of the artist’s life, which amounts to 33 years, still keeps in it many secrets and riddles
In modern Vitebsk remained just several houses, eternalized in the canvases of Mark Shagal. Including the house on Pokrovskaya Street, which in the beginning of the 1900’s built the artist’s father and where Mark spent his youth. In 1997 a museum was opened here, where the city had been hosted its admirers of his great talent for ten years already. Household articles, copies of archive documents and the artist’s work tell about the destiny of Mark Shagal and the family of his parents. But, in opinion of the museum’s director, a historian Liudmila Khmelnitskaya, a Vitebsk period of the artist’s life, which amounts to 33 years, still keeps in it many secrets and riddles.

A riddle of the genius

Having stepped from a small Belarusian town to the world space, he left such a bright trace that for many decades the art historians had still been arguing about his way and manner to denounce his world perception, views on the earthly and the heavenly, the eternal and the perishable, the imaginary and the genuine to people around him. In the matter of fact, he turned the world upside down: his heroes can fly, the houses are upturned, and the cow plays the violin.

At his canvases the idea of a “space” revolution Shagal embodies through two lovers flying over the town. This gave a cause for critics to add him to a glorious constellation of rebels and dreamers, who specified a new era in the artistic human culture by their art in the first decades of the XXth century.
The biggest part of his life Shagal spent in France. In the century of “total” influence Shagal didn’t imitate anybody. A riddle of his artistic thinking, his method to grasp the essence of matters, unpredictability of dialectics — all this made his art inimitable. Painting of a plafond in Grand-Opera in Paris, glass paintings in the churches of Mainz, Zurich and Tjudli, in synagogue in Jerusalem, mosaic panels for the National library in Chicago, thousands of canvases and graphical works, which are now in different countries and on the different continents... During his almost centenary life Shagal was a real “citizen of the world”.

His “mysterious” art at the same time is close and clear to people of different nationalities and beliefs, and this is also one of the most important riddles. And, may be, the key of the artist’s riddle is exactly in his native city, memory of which he carried through all his life. That is why Vitebsk again attracts people, partial to Shagal genius, to whom a magic of art is clear and who understands that after death of the great artist, his soul still lingers over a native city, and in his pictures life continues...

“In colours and paints my picture stands on the border of life and death”
Today Vitebsk counts 233 objects, included into the State list of historical and cultural values. There are buildings of a national art college among them, the house of Shagal’s family, which preserved till our days, they are connected with life and art of Mark Shagal; in his honour the monuments were installed, the Art-centre of M.Shagal was opened. In memory of a world famous fellow citizen in Vitebsk Shagal’s International days are being organized and plein-airs. In the city of Shagal 94 painters create, who are the members of the Union of painters of the Republic of Belarus. Traditionally, the admirers of the artist’s talent gather on Pokrovskaya Street near the museum’s house in the day of his birth each year, a theatrical performance “On a visit of Mark and Bella” also takes place there.

The last jubilee year became a surprise for the citizens and guests of a festival Vitebsk (these days the International festival of arts “Slavianskiy bazaar in Vitebsk” has been taking place), for example, the collection of smiles of the Moscow clowns’ museum of Nikolay Chelnokov. A merited artist of Russia, a stage-director Nikolay Chelnokov fell in love with Vitebsk with all his heart and offered the idea of “clowns” to organizers of the ХVIIth International Shagal’s days. By no means, occasionally. The subject of circus has always been close to Shagal himself. Almost eight decades Shagal created his myth, where fancifully intertwisted Bible legends and images of folk way of thinking, characters of the circus and fairy-tales, household objects. Chelnokov brought to Vitebsk 300 showpieces of clowns, collected all over the world, — funny figures from America, Japan, Italy, France and Belgium... At that, all the works were authorial and exclusive. This was an effective bow of an artist to the painter’s talent.

I walk with a museum’s director of Mark Shagal in Vitebsk Liudmila Khmelnitskaya in the halls of the Art-centre, and she leads me to coloured lithographies of maestros of artistic European avant-garde: Fernand Leger, Alexander Colder, Anri Matiss, Juan Miraud.

— We have all these works owing to invaluable help of Doctor Heinrich Mandel from the town of Irrel in Germany, — says Liudmila Khmelnitskaya. — From the moment of formation of the museum’s collection, he gratuitously presented us many graphical works of Shagal from his private collection. And nearly two thousand books, on the basis of which in 2002 we managed to open a specialized scientific library on Shagal’s art and the art of classic avant-garde. The owner of a private gallery of Shagal’s graphics from the town of Meilen in Switzerland Gьnter Komatski rendered big assistance to a museum in execution of graphical works.

On the whole, 17 years ago, when Vitebsk citizens began to create a Shagal’s museum from scratch, not only Shagal’s heirs rendered them support and assistance, his contemporaries, but also people, who had never met the Master, but worship his art. In German Ninburg even a “circle of assistance” was organized, where were included Christopher Goldman, Greta Scher, Wolfgang Kopf, an entrepreneur Gerhard Wiegand. This is how the museum got the first Shagal’s litographies and the first books about the artist.

— Since 1997 the museum has established close contacts with the heirs of Mark Shagal — granddaughters Meret Meyer-Graber (Bern, Switzerland) and Bella Meyer (New-York, the USA), who gifted the whole collection of graphical works of their grandfather to the museum, and also began to organize Shagal’s exhibitions in Vitebsk and Minsk from family’s collections, — says Liudmila Khmelnitskaya. — Five such exhibitions have already taken place. As for creation of a catalogue of the Master’s works, this is a very hard work. They are scattered literally all over the world. And that is why it’s even difficult to say yet, when a catalogue of Shagal’s painting will come off the press.

Valeria Stasiuk
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