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Lee Krasner – Out of the Shadows

Lee Krasner may not be a name you immediately recognize, but her husband, Jackson Pollock, definitely is a staple in the abstract expressionist community.

Lee Krasner worked tirelessly for over 50 years, continuously pushing the boundaries and her work forward.

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She was known for reinventing herself and creating various pieces that range from collage, cubist drawings, assemblage, and abstract expressionism.

While some believe Jackson Pollock overshadowed her, she was one of his biggest fans and one of the most essential crusaders in his legacy. 

“I happened to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock, and that’s a mouthful. I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.”

Jackson-Pollock-and-Lee-Krasner

Born in 1908 to Russian-Jewish refugee parents in Brooklyn, Lee knew that art was her passion from her early years. She would attend the Women’s Art School at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design.

The Museum of Modern Art opened in 1929, and she said, “It was like a bomb that exploded…nothing else ever hit me that hard until I saw Pollock’s work.” She would paint murals for the Works Progress Administration.

She studied with Hans Hofmann in 1937 when she joined the American Abstract Artists Group. She was in the middle of the exciting New York art scene.

In 1942, Krasner and Pollock were brought together by being included in a significant exhibition, French and American Painting for Graham.

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When Krasner decided to knock on Pollock’s apartment door to view his work. This moment was the start of their relationship, which would impact her career.

Krasner introduced Pollock to many influential artists, like Hoffman, Janis, de Kooning, and art critic Clement Greenberg. The two married in 1945 and moved to Long Island.

Krasner spent her days working in her personal studio, creating the Little Images series, which would be her breakthrough work and collages made from discarded Pollock scraps and her admiration for Matisse.

little images

Pollock tragically passed in a car accident in 1956 while Krasner was in Europe. The next year, Krasner moved into Pollock’s barn studio on their property, and she continued working on her craft.

The Seasons (1957) and Gaea (1966) were the beginning of her creations, where nature was an immersive and clear theme.

Her first solo exhibition would come in 1965 at Whitechapel Gallery in London and then in 1975 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She passed away in 1984, months before her retrospective opened at MoMA.

“I never violate an inner rhythm. I loathe to force anything. I don’t know if the inner rhythm is Eastern or Western. I know it is essential for me. I listen to it, and I stay with it. I have always been this way. I have regard for the inner voice.”

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Her Work

Krasner is identified as an Abstract Expressionist because of her expressive works using a variety of mediums.

She has been known to cut apart her pieces, consistently revising and destroying works because she was so critical of herself. Due to this, it resulted in her body of work being small compared to other artists from the same time. 

In the 1940s, she was so profoundly impacted by seeing Pollock’s work. She immediately rejected the cubist style she was embarking on under Hofmann.

During this time, the work she produced was referred to as “grey slab paintings,” and she was frustrated with these works. These works were eventually destroyed, and only one work survived this time in her career. 

krasner grey slabs

Little Images was her first series, which is 40 small paintings that she created from 1946 to 1949. They’re typically categorized as webbed, hieroglyphs, and mosaic, depending on the image. 

The early collage images era was the beginning of her first series of collage paintings. This period was marked by her moving from the easel to the floor.

She would cut and tear shapes onto color field painting used in the 1951 Betty Parsons Exhibition. She would gravitate to a more symbolic manner during this time.

lee krasner

The Earth Green Series was started before Pollock passed away, but she completed the work after his death, reflecting both nature and her feelings of grief. Her intense feelings caused a shift in her art to push more boundaries and her concepts of art. 

The Umber Series was developed from 1959 to 1961 when she dealt with insomnia, the grief of her husband’s loss, and the loss of her mother.

She worked during the night, having to use artificial light, so her color story was made up of dull, monochrome colors. She used an aggressive style in this series.

bright star in her own right krasner

The Primary Series were paintings using bright colors and mimicked a floral or plant-like shape. They were large, didn’t have a focal point and the palettes contrasted one another. Unfortunately, during this time, she suffered an aneurysm, fell, and broke her dominant wrist, so she began using her left hand. 

She continued to work on large horizontal paintings with rigid edges with bright colors and a second collage series made up of old charcoal drawings she had done. 

Her Legacy

After Pollock died, Krasner began to achieve recognition, like her first retrospective. In the 70s, she became part of the strong feminist movement that was occurring. The movement was quick to champion her story of living in her husband’s shadow.

The 1984 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art that took place months after her death was a big moment for her career. The New York Times said the retrospective “clearly defines Krasner’s place in the New York School.”

They also said that she “is a major, independent artist of the pioneer Abstract Expressionist generation, whose stirring work ranks high among that produced here in the last half-century.”

lee krasner

The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center at Stony Brook University is one way their legacy lives on.

Until 2008, Krasner was one of four women who had a retrospective show at the institution, the others being Louise Bourgeois in 1982, Helen Frankenthaler in 1989, and Elizabeth Murray in 2004.

Her papers were donated in 1985 to the Archives of American Art and have since been digitized and are located on the web.

The Pollock-Krasner Foundation was established in 1985, and it functions as the estate for both artists, but it also assists working artists of merit with financial assistance.

In 2003, her work Celebration sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art for almost $2 million. In 2008, Polar Stampede sold for $3.2 million. 

“All my work keeps going like a pendulum; it seems to swing back to something I was involved with earlier, or it moves between horizontality and verticality, circularity, or a composite of them. For me, I suppose that change is the only constant.”

Sources: 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/19/arts/lee-krasner-barbican-schirn-kunsthalle.html

https://www.moma.org/artists/3240

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/lee-krasner-more-than-a-muse-1854144

https://www.azquotes.com/author/8259-Lee_Krasner

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Krasner

https://www.thoughtco.com/lee-krasner-biography-4178004

Videos To Watch

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Piet Mondrian – from De Stijl to Broadway Boogie Woogie

piet mondrian

Pieter Cornelis Mondrian was a Dutch painter, became one of the first well known Abstract art painters and with his unique style influenced many modern art creators.

Background

Piet Mondrian was born on 7th March 1872 in Amersfoort, Netherlands.

He was a second child in a family, which was filled with artists, so art became a part of Piet‘s life naturally at an early age.

His father, together with his uncle, used to paint local landscapes and even was a qualified drawing teacher. According to historians, his uncle was the person who has taught him basics of drawing.

While growing up in the Amersfoort, Mondrian saw how the whole town was changing.

A new shopping street, tramway, and railway – becoming a modern city, Amersfoort showed that the world was changing and becoming a new, industrial place with new shapes and ideas.

piet mondrian young

According to Inge Vos, who leads a guided tour about Mondrian‘s life, all these changes could have had an impact on Mondrian‘s interest in technology and change that developed his style into minimalistic and abstract.

piet mondrian self portrait

Practicing to become an artist

In 1892 Mondrian enrolled the Academy of Fine Art in Amsterdam.

At that time, he was working as a drawing teacher, but also was working on his own style by painting traditional Dutch landscapes of fields with windmills and rivers.

He was experimenting with the primary colors by combining Post-impressionism and Fauvism painting styles.

A good example of his work could be “Evening Red Tree”, created between 1908 – 1910.

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This painting combines a realistic object, a tree, and an expressive palette of colors, which was inspired by another Dutch painter – Vincent Van Gogh.

After creating this drawing, Mondrian visited an exhibition of cubists’ works in 1911 in Amsterdam.

He was so inspired by what he saw, that shortly after, he decided to move to Paris and get to know more about Cubism and meet a leader of this movement – Pablo Picasso.

In the spring of 1912, Piet painted “The Flowering Apple Tree”, which shows how Mondrian was influenced by Cubism.

the flowering apple tree 1912

This work combines his ideas of traditional painting and strict shapes of Cubism.

Thus began the beginning of his way towards becoming a painter of a totally new area of minimalism and abstract art.

De Stijl

When World War I started in 1914, Mondrian was visiting the Netherlands and he decided to stay till the conflict will end.

At that time he was describing himself as a Cubist, but he was still looking for an inspiration to convey his ideas and improve as an artist.

This is why he joined “De Stijl” (The Style) – a movement of the artists and architects, dedicated to the neoplasticism ideas.

Together with the movement, the other Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg released a magazine with the same name “De Stijl”, which gave a voice to the artists to spread their ideas and theories about the art.

De_Stijl,_Vol._1,_no._1,_Delft,_October_1917_(detail)

This activity of Mondrian is considered as interesting and unique because most of the artists didn’t write about their ideas, they used to paint as the only form to express it. That said, manifestos were becoming all the rage.

On the other hand, Mondrian was becoming an abstract painter and to avoid wide interpretations of his art, it was better to talk about his ideas to the public.

France: Evolution of an artist

The end of World War I marks Mondrian’s journey to becoming one of the more unique and modern abstract art purveyors of his time.

In 1918, when Piet returned to Paris, he started to create grid-based abstract paintings, which combined clear black lines and vivid primary colors of yellow, blue and red.

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Between 1920 and 1921, more and more space in his drawings was changed by involving a white color, leaving bright primary colors just as details in the whole space.

London and New York

Fear of the growing power of Fascism in Europe led Mondrian to run from Paris to London in 1938.

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It was mainly because his art didn’t fit in any rules of regime, which was uprising very fast in Europe.

For the safety of expressing his ideas along with he himself, the artist left Europe in 1940, shortly after World War II had started. New York was a breath of fresh air to Mondrian.

A modern city with inspiration at every corner, fulfilled with a new culture and jazz music, which Mondrian enjoyed a lot, and the most important – freedom to create whatever he wanted and dreamed of.

Piet Mondrian was not married, but according to historians, he uses to go out to the jazz concerts a lot, where he could dance and flirt with beautiful women.

Influence of American culture: Broadway Boogie Woogie

In 1943, Piet Mondrian finished his work called “Broadway Boogie Woogie”, which was different from his abstract works.

The style of this painting was similar to previous works: he painted small and larger squares by using primary colors by invading a simple white, but the main difference was, that this works was inspired and even wanted to repeat the things of the real-life such as busy daily life in Manhattan.

Little colored squares symbolize its buildings and the whole microflora of a city.

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Next to that, it looks very dynamic too, like a boogie-woogie dance style and what is also interesting, from nowadays perspective it looks like a scene from the 90‘s computer game, which is fascinating.

Piet Mondrian was highly influenced by the American culture, he enjoyed nights out in the jazz clubs, which clearly inspired him to live the life he wanted and to shout to the world about a new modern era.

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Videos about Piet Mondrian

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Sava Šumanović – A Tragic Painter In A White Suit

Life is only one sad nothing. – S. Šumanović

Sava Šumanović’s life was brilliant, joyless, inspiring, sad, noble, tragic – all at once.

This artist was born in 1896 in Vinkovci (then in Austro-Hungary) as an only child in a respectable and wealthy family. When he was four years old, the family moved to Šid, a small town in West Serbia.

Sava’s father wanted for his only son to be a lawyer, but young Sava had different wishes. He had been fascinated by art since his school days. So, he resisted his father’s wish and went to Art Academy in Zagreb, instead of Law School.

He organized his first exhibition in 1918, at the very end of the studies. He earned great reviews and his popularity and influence had been gradually increasing since that moment. Symbolism and secession made a great impact on these paintings.

In 1920, he went to Paris, which is one of the most important points in his career. He spent six months there, painting and studying from French painter and teacher Andre Lhote, a cubist.

Rising Star

Lothe made a great impression on Sava, a young rising painter, who started to express himself through cubism and constructivism, just like his mentor.

Thanks to that, Šumanović became a pioneer of modernism in Serbian, Yugoslav painting. But introducing the Yugoslav audience to modernism wasn’t easy.

Namely, after returning from France, he organized an exhibition in Zagreb, but was deeply disappointed for criticisms being highly negative.

In his opinion, the problem for this outcome was the unadaptable Zagreb audience that wasn’t ready for anything new. He wasn’t an exception. He was rejected because he brought something new.

After coming back to Serbia, he started painting females and landscapes from around Šid. These motifs will dominate his paintings till the very end of his creation.

In 1925, he went to Paris one more time, but this time it wasn’t so bright and satisfying as it was when he first went there. He made some of his most famous paintings then – Drunken boat, inspired by famous Arthur Rimbaud’s poem with the same title, and Breakfast on Grass.

Struggle and Joy

Also, he participated in The Salon d’Automne (1926). Despite all that, he was coming across divided reviews, and those negative ones had a negative influence on his mental health.

His entire life in Paris in 1925 was a fierce struggle in himself, fighting against regret, against sentimentalism. Therefore, he painted pictures in a bright tone with a joyful coloration.

But it didn’t help – the real life was too damned, ugly and sad. Difficult working conditions, unsatisfying criticisms, a humiliating situation with a visa and a series of personal events made him psychically exhausted.

In order to get some rest, the painter returned to his homeland. In September 1928, he organized an exhibition in Belgrade which met excellent reception with the audience. 

Later that year he went to Paris, again. It was his last stay in The City of Light. Paintings Red carpet, Lying female act, Luxembourg park in Paris… But his health condition soon got worse, and in 1930 he came back to Belgrade for treatment.

Two years after rest cure he returned to beloved Šid, this time for forever.

Knowledge and Experience

That decade (1932 – 1942 after he came home till his tragic death) was the most active period of his artistic creation. This period is considered the most important phase of his work and is called Šid’s phase.

Sava came back as a mature artist, full of knowledge and experience. He had ideal working conditions there. He was completely dedicated to painting. He had realized that he could fulfill his highest aim, which was to come up with his own style.

He didn’t want to be a Cubist, or Symbolist, or Impressionist, or anything else, but himself. And he succeeded it, he named his style as I can and ken.

This painter spent a lot of time in nature, enjoying Srem landscape and finding inspiration and motifs for his future paintings.

He was always going for a walk at the same time, wearing a white suit and carrying an umbrella. He was carrying his umbrella even in Summer, to protect the white suit from mulberry stains.

During this decade, Šumanović painted over 600 paintings. The most significant are two cycles – Šidijanke (which means women from Šid) and Grape harvesters.

The first cycle was completely presented at the exhibition in Belgrade in 1939. Grape harvesters is considered the beginning of a new cycle that was interrupted by the tragic death of the painter.

Murder

He was murdered during World War II. He had just finished Grape harvesters when pro-fascist collaborators came and took him in the dawn, 28 August 1942.

Two days later, 30 August, Sava Šumanović and 120 people from Šid, were unknowingly convicted, tortured and shot and then buried in mass grave in Sremska Mitrovica.

His mother succeeded to save his paintings during the war.

She also succeeded in creating a gallery in one of the family houses and gave the works of her son to Šid town. Gallery Sava Šumanović was founded in 1952 and Savas’s paintings still live there.

Here is a video that talks about Sava Šumanović. Unfortunately, it is not in English.

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Lyrical Metaphora by Marc Chagall

Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.

Marc Chagall never aligned himself with any single movement, but his influence is as vast as the number of styles he assimilated to create his work.

Many of his peers pursued ambitious experiments that often led to abstraction, but Chagall’s distinction lies in his steady faith in power in figurative art, one that he maintained despite absorbing ideas from many different avant-garde movements.

As a prime example of a modern artist, Chagall mastered multiple media including oil painting, gouache painting, murals, watercolors, etching, ceramics, theater, drawing, stained-glass work and costume design.

Background

He was born on July, 7, 1887 to Feige-Ite and Khatskl Shagal in Liozna, near Vitebsk, in Russian Empire, today Belarus. He was raised in a Hasidic family and attended local Jewish religious school where he studied the Old Testament and Hebrew.

During this time, it was obligatory for Russian Jews since discrimination policies prohibited mixing of different racial and religious groups.

During his early schooling, Chagall adopted the habit of copying and drawing images from book, which developed into an emotional relationship with art, and eventually the choice to pursue it as a life career.

He began to learn the fundamentals of drawing, but more importantly, he absorbed the world around him, storing away the imagery and themes that would feature largely in most of his work.

To continue his studies, in 1906, he moved in St Petersburg and enrolled at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting. There, he briefly apprenticed under the artist and set designer, a devout Jew himself, Leon Bakst.

He is believed to have encouraged Marc Chagall to introduce Jewish themes and imagery in his work, a practice that was pretty unpopular at this time in the Russian Empire.

Paris

At the impressionable age of 23, speaking no French, Chagall moved in Paris in 1910. It was the time when Cubism was emerging as the leading avant-garde movement, and young artist aligned himself with the new movement.

Chagall responded to the stimulus by rapidly developing the poetics and seemingly irrational tendencies he had begun to display in Russia.

Under the influence of the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Fauvist pictures, he gave up the usually somber palette he had employed at home.

In his early work, Chagall is obviously adopting dynamic composition and the abstract forms that characterized much of Cubism; yet, he came to reject the movement’s academic leanings infusing his work with touches of emotions and cheerful colours.

In the Paris Through the Window (1913) the figure in the bottom right looks both ways, the couple bellow the Eiffel Tower seems to be split apart.

On first glance, the picture may recall one of Robert Delaunay’s many fractured portraits of the Eiffel Tower rendered in the Orphic Cubism style.

But, Chagall has no intention to dissect the view or the subject. Instead, he searches for beauty in details, creating ‘ sur-naturalist’ elements, such as two-faced head and floating human.

The end result is a balanced and visually appealing snapshot of Paris.

In his Parisian period, Chagall often used subject matters from memory in his paintings; subjects included weddings, pastoral village scenes, fiddlers playing on rooftops.

He kept close to his heart his home town of Vitebsk; the figures seem to float freely in the sky- Chagall’s lyrical and melancholic signatures of his far-away home.

Fusing his own personal, a dreamlike imagery with hints of the fauvism and cubism, Chagall created his most lasting work. The four years of his stay in Paris are often considered Chagall’s best phase.

In the piece I and the Village (1911), abstraction is at the heart of this piece, it exists to decorate the picture rather than invite analysis of the image.

This very approach: a blend of the figurative and modern, with a light, whimsical tone, would make the artist influential and famous.

Bella

During one of his visits to Russia Chagall fell in love and became engaged to the writer Bella Rosenfeld. Chagall met Bella, the daughter of a wealthy Russian jeweler, in 1909 in St Petersburg when she was 19 and he, seven years her senior, was attending art school.

In 1914, Chagall enjoyed a well-received exhibition of some 200 works in Berlin, all of which he would never recover. After the show, he returned to Vitebsk with plans to marry Bella.

The same year, the two did marry, but the outbreak of the World War I stopped their plan to move back to Paris. For the next nine years The Chagalls would remain in Russia.

Her wife came to be a subject of many of his paintings. For instance, in the Belle with White Collar (1917) woman figure and her demure face stand over a lush pastoral landscape, larger than life, may have been inspired by the traditional subject, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

This piece, while vibrant and expressive, stands as a lasting example of Chagall’s mastery of more traditional subjects and forms, yet he no less maintains the faintest of sur-naturalist elements throughout.

Few years after the war’s outbreak the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) occurred, an event that obliged Chagall to remain in Russia. He was given the political post of Commissar of Arts for Vitebsk.

In his new post Chagall undertook various projects in the region, including the founding of the Academy of the Fine Arts in 1919. Despite these endeavors, differences among his colleagues eventually disillusioned Chagall.

This teaching position conflicted with his nonpolitical nature; his overall work ethic and pace lessened due to the tense climate. In 1920, he relinquished the position and moved his family to Moscow, the post-revolution capital of Russia.

In Moscow, he was commissioned to create costumes and sets for various productions at the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre, where he would paint a series of murals titled Introduction to the Jewish Theater.

Paris Pt. 2

By the 1922, however, Chagall found that his art had fallen out of favor, and seeking new horizons he left Russia for good. And, the next year, after years of scraping by in Moscow, Vitebsk and other towns, Chagall and Bella moved back to Paris.

In the heart of the Green Violinist (1923-24) is nostalgia for the artist’s rustic village. Fiddlers on rooftops were a popular motif of Chagall’s, stemming from his memories of Vitebsk.

This very motif also reflects the artist’s deep devotion to his Jewish cultural roots; his subject who may represent the prophet Elijah is an extension of the rooftop, indicated by geometric shapes in his pant legs and by windows.

In the coming years of World War II, Europe was occupied; Hitler’s Third Reich reigned over a large portion of the continent, including Vichy France where Chagall and his family were living.

It is said that Joseph Goebbels personally ordered the artist’s paintings to be burned. Singled out during the cultural ‘’cleansing’’, undertaken by the Nazis, Chagall’s work was ordered removed from museums throughout the country.

Several pieces were subsequently burned, and others were featured in a 1937 exhibition of ‘’degenerate art’’ held in Munich.

Chagall is well known for his religious and Biblical motifs and subjects, but Christian symbolism present in White Crucifixion (1938) is surprising given Chagall’s devout Orthodox Jewish background.

In this piece, Jesus wears a Jewish prayer shawl, and whilst he suffers on the cross, Jewish figures on all sides of him suffer as well fleeing from marauding invaders who burn a synagogue.

This work is a clear indication of Chagall’s faith and his response to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe at this time.

In that difficult time in which many artists were forced to seek refuge in the United States, in 1941, thanks to Chagall’s daughter Ida and some people from the art world, Chagall’s name was added to a list of European artists whose lives were at risk and in need of asylum.

In June, 1941 Bella and Chagall arrived in United States.

Just before the war in Europe was about to close, Bella Chagall died from a viral infection, and Chagall’s hometown Vitebsk had been razed during the German invasion of Russia.

Devastated and crippled with grief, Chagall’s work lessened dramatically.

The Real Notebook

After his wife’s death, Chagall kept her notebook, which he illustrated for the next 20 years, sketching on the blank pages and surrounding Bella’s writings with colourful posthumous portraits of her and the two of them together.

In one sketch Bella is depicted in a patterned dress with a bowl of fruit, while another drawing shows her with dark circles around her eyes, possibly depicting her final illness.

In probably the most moving image, Chagall, with a blue face and melancholy expression, is settled at his easel, contemplating a red painting of himself and Bella, on hand reaching out to touch the canvas with his other hand to his heart.

The 85-page notebook, which Chagall illustrated between 1944 and 1965 while he spent time living in New York and the south of France, also includes several self-portraits.

Described as ‘’unique’’ by art experts, the intact collection is extremely rare as Chagall dismantled most of his sketchbooks and sold drawings individually.

Chagall never truly made New York his home, consequently, in 1947 the widower returned to France and settled in the southern city of Vence. After few years, he remarried to Valentine ‘Vava’ Brodsky in 1952.

Later Life

He continued making artworks, but his later canvases are remarkably different than his better-known earlier works.

His subjects and colors appear more melancholy, his brushwork became increasingly lyrical and abstract, almost reverting back in time to Post-Impressionist motifs.

The crowning achievements of the last two decades of his life were a series of large-scale commissions; in 1960, it was stained-glass windows that represented twelve tribes of Israel, these were installed at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, than memorial window Piece for the United Nations in 1964, The America Windows installed at the Chicago Institute for Art, 1977.

Chagall’s commissions for murals also defined his late career; ceiling of the Paris Opera House in 1963, as well as The Sources of Music and The Triumphs of Music for the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1966.

Marc Chagall passed away on March, 28, 1985 in Saint-Paul, France, at the age of 97.

Chagall’s legacy reveals an artistic style that is both entirely his own and a rich amalgam of prevailing Modern art disciplines.

His repertory of images, including melancholy, clowns, massive bouquets, flying lovers, biblical prophets, fantastic animals and fiddlers on roofs, helped to make him on of the most popular major innovators of the 20th century School of Paris.

He presented dreamlike subject matter in rich colors and in a fluent, painterly style that, while reflecting an awareness of artistic movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and even abstraction, remained invariably personal.

Although critics sometimes complained of facile sentiments, uneven quality, and an excessive repetition of motifs in the artist’s total output, there is agreement that at its best it reached a level of visual metaphor seldom attempted in modern art.