Marc Chagall (Vitebsk, 1887 – Saint-Paul-de-Vence, 1985)
Oil on canvas, 87 x 68.5 cm
On permanent loan from the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, donated by Ida Chagall
Marc Chagall (Vitebsk, 1887 - Saint-Paul-de-Vence, 1985), Cemetery Gate, Vitebsk, 1917
In 1914, Marc Chagall left Paris for Berlin, invited there by Herwarth Walden, director of Galerie Der Sturm, then joined his fiancée Bella in Vitebsk. Forced to stay there by the outbreak of war, he took part in the revolution in 1917. In this picture he conveys the hopes this gave Russian Jews. 1917 was also the date of the Balfour Declaration promising them a homeland in Palestine. Here Chagall was associating the cemetery with resurrection: on the gateway’s triangular pediment he wrote a verse from the prophet Ezekiel’s vision in the Valley of Dry Bones: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.” (Ezekiel 37, 12). But in the text he introduces a Zionist element by substituting the word erets (“land”), with adamah (“ground” or “earth”). This depiction of a cemetery illustrates the rediscovery of Jewish heritage by artists at the beginning of the 20th century.