Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection opens this Saturday, February 6. Here are some photos our staff snapped in the galleries just after everything went on the walls.
Marc Chagall’s three monumental portraits from 1914, Jew in Red, Jew in Black and White, and Jew in Green, are on view in Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland. Read more about Jew in Black and White here.
I start from the initial shock of something actual and spiritual, from some definite thing, and then go on toward something more abstract.—Chagall
The model for Jew in Green, a rabbi who introduced himself as the Preacher of Slouzk, left a profound effect on Chagall. He explained, “I had the impression that the old man was green; perhaps a shadow fell on him from my heart.” Chagall depicted him impoverished and in despair, with one eye open, the other closed, and his hands painted in different colors. Behind him are religious texts he recited daily in Hebrew, including the Kaddish, a prayer praising God: “He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace for us and for all Israel.” In 1936, Karl Im Obersteg acquired Jew in Green from Chagall by trading it for another picture by the artist.
Born and raised by an observant Jewish family near Vitebsk, Russia (now Belarus), Marc Chagall began his artistic training in St. Petersburg, then traveled to Paris, where he met artists who introduced him to Fauvism, Cubism, and other modern art movements. Chagall blended these trends with Russian and Jewish imagery and fantastical symbols drawn from childhood memories. During what was meant to be a short trip to visit family in 1914, the outbreak of World War I forced Chagall to remain in Russia. In Vitebsk, he painted portraits of beggars and itinerant Hasidic rabbis who were invited into his family’s home. Chagall described the sitter in Jew in Black and White as a beggar with “gray hair, sullen expression, a sack on his back.”
Chagall dressed him as a rabbi, placing his father’s tallit (prayer shawl) over the man’s shoulders and wrapping tefillins (used during morning prayer) around his head and left arm. His right hand holds the tzitzit (tassel of the prayer shawl). Jew in Black and White and Jew in Red were exhibited in Chagall’s 1933 retrospective at the Kunsthalle Basel, which collector Karl Im Obersteg, through his association with the artist, helped to organize. This painting is the first of two later versions in separate collections.