Whatever Happened to Marc Chagall?
Sooner or later, the reputation of every creative artist hardens into a kind of permanent fact, after which point only a sharp and massive shift in public sensibility can budge it. For artists who live to extreme old age, this process can take quite a while. Those lucky enough to become public figures find that their works are exempted from exacting judgment, and everything they do—good, bad, indifferent—is treated as equally fascinating. Eventually, however, the vivid personality recedes, leaving only the work.
That time seems to have come at last for Marc Chagall. When he died in 1985, a few months shy of his ninety-eighth birthday, Chagall was venerated as the last survivor of the first generation of European modernists. (Miró had died two years earlier.) For decades he had also been lionized as the world’s preeminent Jewish artist, although the public commissions that poured his way were by no means exclusively Jewish: stained glass for the cathedrals of Reims and Metz, a Dag Hammarskjöld memorial at the United Nations, the great ceiling mural in the Paris Opera.
About the Author
Michael J. Lewis, a frequent contributor, teaches at Williams College. He is the author most recently of American Art and Architecture (Thames & Hudson)