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April 12, 1985 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-04-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

2

Friday,:igprii A2; 1 . 985 _ _ _

DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Marc Chagall

As Jew And World-Revered Personality

Jewish heritage. He has made the
life of the shtetl a major theme in
European art . . . His deep attach-
ment to Eretz Israel has its expres-
sion in yet another key element in
his work, when he portrays for us
the intimate and intricate ties be-
tween celestial and terrestial
Jerusalem.

A Marc Chagall tapestry lines one wall of the Knesset in Jerusalem.

Marc Chagall will always be revered
as the world image of many colors — not
only artistically, in the form in which he
was unmatched, but also as the Jew and
the internationally respected and admired.
He leaves a record of genius in the
museums of the world, in the Shtetl, in the
Hebrew University — even in the Russia of
his birth where Communists tried to reject
him.
Vitebsk, the birthplace of the sage of
the world of art, always remains the sym-
bol in the -life of the great artist. It also
retained his identification with his people,
his emphasis on ghetto experiences. They
received special emphasis when he was
awarded the Honorary Doctorate by the
Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
With the heder as his background, the
influence of his childhood was inerasable.
It left an Hebraic mark on his thinking and
his artistic creations, and with it was im-
bedded a knowledge and love of Yiddish. It
became evident when he was awarded the
honorary doctorate by the Hebrew Univer-
sity in November 1977 at a ceremony at the
residence of Israeli President Ephraim
Katzir. Chagall was to have been awarded
the doctorate in 1975 at the 50th anniver-
sary of the Hebrew University, but there
was an inevitable postponement.
The scroll of honor was conferred upon
Chagall by Prof. Gidon Czapski, Hebrew
University Rector. Chagall responded in
Yiddish, stating: -
I never believed that, I, a Jew
from the Diaspora, would stand in
Beit Hanasi (the President's home)
and be honored by the Hebrew
University and the Jerusalem
Municipality. When I was a small
boy in Vitebsk and went home
from heder every night carrying a
lantern as the streets were dark, I

used to search the heavens for a
miracle. Since then I have tried to
find the miracle through my art. •
For us, the Jews of today, the mira-
cle is Israel. I wish her and all the
Jewish people happiness and
peace.

So much heart is reflected here from
the genius of Israel, and her blessed sons
that there is a remarkable legacy for the
State of Israel and the entire Jewish people
in this reconstructed experience. Incorpo-
rated in this quotation is the evident influ-
ence of heder and Vitebsk and the Russian
Jewish community's Chagall cultural
genesis. His resort to Yiddish was a
triumph for an indelible idealism and a
mark of respect for the great cultural val-
ues of what should be treated as an undy-
ing language.
That historic event of the Hebrew
University honor for Chagall demands
thorough attention. Joining Israel
President Katzir as participant in that
ceremony was Jacob Tsur, former Israel
Ambassador to France and, at the time,
world president of the Keren Kayemet, the
Jewish National Fund. The Scroll of Honor
was read by Prof Shemaryahau Talmon,
Hebrew University dean of the Faculty of
Humanities. The citation, impressive, so
historic a document demands perpetua-
tion. It is inseparable from the Chagall
documentary. It stated:

Beyond the manner in which
Marc Chagall gives expression to
wide ranging artistic trends and
the extent of his contribution to so
many artistic styles is the way in
which his individualistic approach
and unique personality dominate
the art world of our day . . .
Chagall's art is deeply rooted in

The Hebrew University ceremony in
his honor was not the only occasion on
which Chagall spoke in Yiddish. Prior to
that there was another historic event, the
1969 presentation to the Israel Knesset of
the Chagall triptych tapestry. It was at
that time that the famed artist addressed
the gathering in Yiddish. The impressive
event was described as followg in the now
defunct, London-published Jewish Ob-
server and Middle East Review of June 17,
1969:
Everybody who was anybody
came along to the Human Needs
Conference at some stage or other,
particularly to the reception which
Mrs. Meir gave on Thursday after-
noon in the western hall of the
Knesset. There the talking point
was the enormous triptych tapes-
try by Chagall which had been tin-
veiled the day before. Conversa-
tion will go on for ever about the
symbolism of all the many figures
which crowd the hangings. To-
gether with the mosaic floor and
the north wall mosaic, they make
the Knesset almost like a Chagall
museum.
The three tapestry designs
were painted by Marc Chagall in
1965. There is one wide section and
two narrower ones. All are 15 feet
high. They took three years to
weave at the Paris Gobelin works
founded by Louis XIV. They are
woven of nearly 45 miles of thread
in 16 different colours. Chagall's
speech at the unveiling ceremony
was also colorful. Speaking in
beautiful Yiddish, he noted that
the character of the ideas entering
into the work had been profoundly
influenced by the establishment of
Israel. "You have to live an entire
life of experience, of suffering and
of some joy . . . before you can pro-
duce something like this," he told
the delighted spectators. At
Chagall's side was Knesset
Speaker Kadish Luz, who had per-
suaded him to produce the trip-
tych.
This is not all the Yiddish evidence in
Chagall's career. On the occasion of the
80th birthday of Israel President Zalman
Shazar, a specially leather-bound volume
of greetings from world leaders was pre-
sented to the honoree by Dr. Israel Golds-
tein, who was then world president of the
Keren Hayesod. Joining the world per-
sonalities who extended greetings to
President Shazar was Marc Chagall. He
wrote his greeting in Yiddish and it is re-
produced here.

Chagall gave international signifi-
cance to his native city of Vitebsk. His na-
tive land not only ignored it, the USSR
boycotted him and his internationally
famed works. In the 1920s, after Chagall
had emigrated from Russia, his works were
banned and his paintings were removed
from the Soviet museums. Forty years la-
ter, there was questionable evidence that
the artist was rehabilitated in his native
land. A New York Times report, datelined
Moscow, Dec. 29, 1966, was headlined:
"Moscow Mystery Over Chagall: First He's
in Show, Then He Is Not." The sub-head:

"The Long-Banned Symbolist Is Appar-
ently Scheduled Only to Be Removed." The
story quotes Tass, the Soviet press agency,
"Works by Marc Chagall have appeared in
the Tretyakov Gallery here after a long
break. Several of his works are included in
an exhibition of water colors ranging from
the end of the 18th Century to the begin-
ning of the 20th Century, which opened
here today."
The New York Times story proceeded
to reveal:

In one of the large rooms were
many interesting works of once-
banned artists, but nothing by
Chagall.
"No, we don't have any plans
to exhibit Chagall," a museum offi-
cial said.
Informed by telephone of the
absence of Chagall water colors at
the exhibition, a Tass spoke s man
reacted with disbelief and insisted
that they had been there in the
morning.
An hour later, a correction de-
leting the name of Chagall was
moved on the Tass wire.
It was not confirmed tonight
whether Chagall's works had been
up in the morning and then were
removed after protests, or whether
plans to include him were canceled
and Tass was not informed.
A movement has been under
way in the last few years toward a
rehabilitation of many artists
active before and after the Bol-
shevik Revolution in experimental
groups such as the World of Art of
the Jack of Diamonds and the
Light Blue Rose. Among artists
whose controversial paintings
have been removed from locked
rooms and hung recently are Alek-
sandr Tyshler, Robert Falk and
Kuzmav Petrov-Vodkin.
Conservative officials in the
Soviet art world have rebelled
vehemently, however, against lift-
ing ideological restraint to the
point of including the symbolist
works of Chagall or the abstrac-
tions of Vasily Kandinsky. It is be-
lieved here that their rehabilita-
tion would be the final step in a
Soviet re-examination of modern
art.
Chagall was commissar of art
in Vitebsk, his home town, after the
Revolution and worked for the
Jewish Theater in Moscow before
moving abroad.
Raymond H. Anderson was the Times

Continued on Page 8

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