Nassau County Museum of Art
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Past Exhibitions


Museum Galleries a Treasure House of
Chagall’s Works, Including First Local
Showing of 1957 Bible Series of
Hand-Colored Etchings

July 21-November 4, 2012

“If we had nothing of Chagall but his Bible,
he would be for us a great modern artist."
Art Historian Meyer Schapiro, Columbia University

“The Bible is life, an echo of nature, and this
is the secret I have endeavored to transmit."
Marc Chagall

Two years ago, Ambassador Arnold Saltzman, the founding president and current executive vice president of the museum, proposed a highly ambitious undertaking—an exhibition that would make the galleries a treasure house of works by Marc Chagall. The museum’s former director, Constance Schwartz, was enlisted to organize an extraordinary exhibition of Chagall’s work, more extensive than any other previously seen in this area, and including paintings being shown to the Long Island public for the first time. Saltzman and Schwartz reached out for important loans from the many collectors, galleries and museums that they had established relationships with over the years. These efforts have resulted in Marc Chagall, a major exhibition that features significant paintings and a large selection from Chagall’s series of 105 hand-colored etchings of Bible stories that he produced in 1957. These etchings have never before been seen on Long Island. The exhibition is supported by the Saltzman Family Foundation and The David Berg Foundation.

The works selected demonstrate how Chagall, throughout a long and distinguished career, incorporated facets of his early Russian-Jewish heritage into multilayered works. Chagall’s storytelling paintings portray a fantastic pictorial world where heaven and earth seem to meet, and couples are always in love. It’s a world where people and animals—cows, goats, donkeys, horses and birds—float upside down or sideways, irrespective of the laws of gravity. Chagall’s hypersensitive imagination is palpable as he shares with the viewer his memories of family in brilliantly colored works set amidst the houses and streets of his native Vitebsk.

The Bible etchings on view in Marc Chagall are on loan from the Haggerty Art Museum of Marquette University in Milwaukee. Chagall’s biographer, Franz Meyer, wrote: “Chagall’s ties with the Bible are very deep indeed; the forms that people its world are a part of his own inner life, part of the living Jewish heritage, and thus are archetypes of a greater, more intensive world.” In Marc Chagall—The Graphic Works, Meyer speculates that the significance of the Bible in Chagall’s work was rooted in his early childhood experiences in Russia.

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was the eldest of nine children born to a poor Russian-Jewish family in the village of Vitebsk. His artistic talent was evident early with a distinctive style of images from childhood emerging during his studies with Leon Bakst in St. Petersburg. Working in Paris from 1910 to 1914, Chagall began to produce paintings inspired by Russian folklore and village life. During World War I, Chagall returned to Russia, ascending to the post of Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk. It was there that he produced works that were to become his most famous—images in strong, bright colors depicting otherworldly states that fused fantasy, nostalgia and religion. He returned to France permanently after World War I, save for the years of the Nazi occupation when he fled to the safety of New York and its environs.


La Caleche Fantastique (Fantastic Horse Cart), 1949
Gouache and pastel on paper
23.25 x 18.12 inches
Gift of Ann R. Smeltzer, Blanden Art Museum

Le clown vert, 1970-75
Oil on canvas
33 X 24 cms.
Private Collection

Houses at Vitebsk, 1917
Oil on paper on canvas
18 3/4 X 24 inches
National Gallery of Art

Femme Ane, 1927-28
Oil on canvas
25 x 20 inches
The Saltzman Family Collection

Marc Chagall © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.