Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson
(Jewish Encounters)

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Part of the Jewish Encounter series

Novelist and critic Jonathan Wilson clears away the sentimental mists surrounding an artist whose career spanned two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, and the birth of the State of Israel. Marc Chagall’s work addresses these transforming events, but his ambivalence about his role as a Jewish artist adds an intriguing wrinkle to common assumptions about his life. Drawn to sacred subject matter, Chagall remains defiantly secular in outlook; determined to “narrate” the miraculous and tragic events of the Jewish past, he frequently chooses Jesus as a symbol of martyrdom and sacrifice.

Wilson brilliantly demonstrates how Marc Chagall’s life constitutes a grand canvas on which much of twentieth-century Jewish history is vividly portrayed. Chagall left Belorussia for Paris in 1910, at the dawn of modernism, looking back dreamily on the world he abandoned. After his marriage to Bella Rosenfeld in 1915, he moved to Petrograd, but eventually returned to Paris after a stint as a Soviet commissar for art. Fleeing Paris steps ahead of the Nazis, Chagall arrived in New York in 1941. Drawn to Israel, but not enough to live there, Chagall grappled endlessly with both a nostalgic attachment to a vanished past and the magnetic pull of an uninhibited secular present.

Wilson’s portrait of Chagall is altogether more historical, more political, and edgier than conventional wisdom would have us believe–showing us how Chagall is the emblematic Jewish artist of the twentieth century.

Visit for a virtual museum of Chagall images.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Jonathan Wilson

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Jonathan Wilson was born in London in 1950 and educated at the universities of Essex, Oxford, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has lived in the United States since 1976, with a four-year interlude in Jerusalem. He is the author of two previous works of fiction, The Hiding Room and Schoom. His stories, articles, essays, and reviews have appeared frequently in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. He held a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction in 1994. He is chair of the English Department at Tufts University and lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with his wife and their two sons.
Published April 15, 2009 by Schocken. 258 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Arts & Photography, History. Non-fiction

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A brisk and very sympathetic biography of the celebrated painter by fiction-writer Wilson (An Ambulance Is on the Way, 2005, etc.).

Jun 24 2010 | Read Full Review of Marc Chagall (Jewish Encounters)

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