Whimsical, playful and free, Marc Chagall’s paintings have fascinated audiences for over 100 years. A pioneer in the early 20th century, Chagall’s inimitable style of painting defied easy categorization, merging elements of Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Fauvism, and Symbolism. He worked across a huge range of disciplines, from drawing and painting to stained glass, tapestry, illustration, printmaking and ceramics. Out of all the incredible art he made, which are Chagall’s best-known artworks? Let’s take a look through the top contenders, in chronological order.
1. I and the Village, 1911
One of Chagall’s best-known artworks must surely be the brilliantly bold I and the Village, made in 1911. An early career artwork by Chagall, this painting demonstrates the artist’s Cubist phase. It has a series of angular and geometric lines that splice the image into kaleidoscopic shards. Chagall called this artwork a “narrative self-portrait”, which illustrates his hometown of Vitebsk, Russia in the background. This is merged with dreamy elements of Russian folklore in the characterful animals and people that populate the foreground.
2. Self Portrait with Seven Fingers, 1912-13
In another playful and experimental take on the self-portraiture genre, Chagall illustrates himself as a wayward artist dressed in smart attire, toiling away on a painting. In the background, we can see the view out to modern Paris and the Eiffel Tower on one wall. On the other, a wispy memory of the artist’s childhood town of Vitebsk can be seen. Chagall made this painting in his Parisian studio when he was just 25 years old, and still desperately poor, despite dressing himself here in a full suit. He gave himself seven fingers here in reference to a Yiddish expression he knew as a child – Mit alle zibn finger – meaning “with all seven fingers” or working as hard as one possibly can. It is one of Chagall’s best-known artworks, demonstrating his incredible work ethic when he was still finding his way as an artist.
3. Birthday, 1915
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One of Chagall’s best-known artworks is Birthday, 1915, because it illustrates the love of his life, his first wife Bella, who would go on to feature prominently in Chagall’s art. Chagall is the man floating above her, with his neck craned to give her a kiss on the lips. He made this artwork on Bella’s birthday, just a few weeks before the pair got married, and it demonstrates the heady, weightless feelings of love and infatuation Chagall felt for Bella. Over the course of his career Chagall went on to paint himself and Bella as floating, intertwined lovers, creating some of the most timeless and iconic images about love.
4. White Crucifixion, 1938
Although many of Chagall’s paintings are whimsical and romantic, he did sometimes address troubling or disturbing subjects. He did this as a way of expressing his feelings of powerlessness during political turbulence. White Crucifixion, 1938, is one of Chagall’s best-known artworks. It has an uncharacteristically eerie, haunting quality, reflecting the horrific times Chagall was then living through. He made this artwork following a trip to Berlin, where he witnessed first-hand the persecution facing Jews during the rise of Nazism. Christ is in the center, the Jewish martyr crucified and left to die, while behind him terrified Jews flee a Pogrom as Nazis burn their houses to the ground.
5. Peace Window, United Nations Building, New York, 1964
Chagall began experimenting with stained glass during his late career, and he went on to create some of the most striking and emotionally resonant artworks of his entire career. He produced a series of ‘Peace Windows’ for various locations, including Switzerland, England, France, Germany and the United States. One of Chagall’s best-known artworks in stained glass is perhaps the window he donated to the United Nations building in 1964, which shimmers with the artist’s trademark dreamy, mystical qualities, made even more mesmerizing as natural light filters through it.