The Fascinating Chagall Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou

The Chagall expo at the Pompidou Museum

We knew Marc Chagall for his colorful and dreamlike paintings, the most French of Russian painters adored by modern art enthusiasts (and by Julia Roberts in Notting Hill). What we know less about is the painter's connection to the performing arts and material, nurtured in New York during World War II and later in Paris, his beloved city. Joyfully, the Centre Pompidou is dedicating an exhibition to him, "Chagall at Work - Drawings, Ceramics, and Sculptures, 1945 - 1970," a title that doesn't quite capture the depth of poetry within. We took a tour.


The Firebird

The firebird from Chagall

In 1945, Chagall was still in exile in New York. He had just lost his beloved wife and couldn't paint or work with colors. In August, he was asked last-minute (to replace poorly executed work) to create a hundred costumes and sets for a new production of the Russian ballet "The Firebird." The choreography didn't exactly impress the press, but the artistic beauty brought by the painter's work was instantly recognized. The show was saved!

Driven by a complete frenzy, the painter, who had been trained in the art of painting, used his great technique to serve an extraordinary creativity. The exhibition displays his grandiose curtain designs and colorful costumes, of which the drawings are presented. Our favorite? A dancer in a red skirt and blue shawl, gracefully moving under the spotlights. Influenced by his travels around the world (Russian fabrics, kachina dolls discovered in Mexico...), you can sense that this great lover of music was particularly inspired by this commission. The result is truly marvelous.


The Ceiling of the Opéra Garnier

The Ceiling of the Opéra Garnier from Chagall

When André Malraux, the Minister of Culture at the time, proposed to his friend Marc Chagall to create the ceiling of the Opéra Garnier in 1962, he hesitated. Being no longer young, such a project scared him. Nevertheless, he accepted, enticed by the idea of complete creative freedom without any guidelines. Following the exhibition, we discover his working process with sketches, much like a flip book whose pages you could flip through rapidly ("Always start from the Eiffel Tower to observe the rest evolving around it!" advises the curator, Anne Montfort).

Chagall, who adored music, took the opportunity to pay homage to his favorite composers: how can you not linger for minutes on end in front of the final sketch, to admire the details up close? Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde," and Ravel's "Pelléas et Mélisande" come to life in a colorful rhythm of red, green, yellow, and blue between two Parisian landmarks.


Chagall and the Material

The last part of the exhibition's triptych focuses on Marc Chagall's 3D works, showcasing ceramics, collages, and sculptures created between the 1950s and 1970s, accompanied by a fascinating documentary by Lauro Venturi, winner of the Oscar for Best Short Documentary in 1963. After returning to France after the war, Chagall developed a passion for ceramics and sculpture, working in workshops in Provence. In this section, we discover what seems to awaken the childlike spirit in the artist (and in us!) as he enjoys playing with materials, sticking fabrics on paper like a mood board, and incorporating goats and clowns into his creations...

"Chagall at Work - Drawings, Ceramics, and Sculptures, 1945 - 1970" is on display until February 26, 2024, at the Centre Pompidou (West Gallery, Level 4). Full admission is €15.

Also, discover Azzedine Alaïa's secret collection and Modigliani at L'Orangerie.

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