Chagall in Paris
Where to find the art of Marc Chagall in Paris.
When Moishe Shagal (1887-1985) moved to Paris in 1911, he Frenchified his name to Marc Chagall and, with a monthly sponsorship from Russian lawyer Maxim Winawer, he was able to live as an artist.
“In Paris, it seemed to me that I was discovering everything, above all a mastery of technique”
– Marc Chagall
Chagall first arrived in Paris in 1911. His first studio was in Montparnasse where many artists had atéliers. It was small and cramped. He immersed himself in art exhibitions from the Impressionists, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin as well as the Old Masters at The Louvre. It was the first time he had seen many of these paintings outside of books. Chagall met artists such as the Delaunays and made friends with writer Apollinaire but could not speak any French at first.
18 Rue Antoine Bourdelle, Paris
(formerly Impasse du Maine)
open daily (closed on Mondays) 10-6
Metro: Montparnasse Bienvenue and Falguiere
The studio that Chagall shared was in this cluster of buildings which are now a part of the Bourdelle Museum, a group of artists’ studios now open to the public. Prolific sculptor and artist Antoine Bourdelle once lived here at number 16 — the street was ubsequently named after him. It’s a small street between Gare Montparnasse and the offices of Le Monde newspaper.
Also on this street is the Musée de Montparnasse (opened in 1998) once the atelier of Russian artist Marie Vassilieff and a social hub for many artists, including Chagall. Vassilieff set up the Russian Academy there in 1910.
La Ruche – the beehive
2 Passage de Dantzig (off Rue de Dantzig)
This building of artists’ studios was originally designed by Gustaf Eiffel. It was used for the Bordeaux Wine Pavilion at the 1900 Paris World Exposition. This temporary construction was relocated in 1902 to its new home here. Sculptor Alfred Boucher wanted to create affordable, basic studio space and a community for poor artists.
It became a lifeline for poverty-stricken artists who came to Paris and too often could not afford to pay their rent on time. Boucher constructed a network of almost 100 ateliers and even more beds on three storeys in the main building. It became known as La Ruche for its unusual beehive-like shape. Many creative talents, writers and other artists would also socialise there. Modigliani, Rousseau and Apollinaire were frequent visitors. At the time, La Ruche was located near to the Paris Vaugirard abattoirs. Chagall lived here in 1912-14 on the second floor and found many Eastern European artists here as well as a bigger studio all to himself.
Most of Chagall’s Paris paintings were done here. When Chagall later returned to Paris in 1923 he found many of his paintings had been lost. He had to repaint them again from memory.I would love to know what happened to those lost paintings.
La Ruche barely survived World War II. In 1968 it was saved from demolition by a group including Jean Renoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. They revived the structure in 1971. Unfortunately the building is not open to the public unless by appointment and is still in use as artists’ studios. You can see the exterior and take a walk around Montparnasse where Chagall would have wandered, visiting the inexpensive cafés that were opening up. Much of Montparnasse has been modernised but look carefully and you will find remnants of what was a thriving artists’ community. There are a few cafés that were frequented by Chagall.
Café de Flore
172 bd. St-Germain, corner of Rue St Benoit
One of the oldest cafés in Paris. Opened in 1885. Chagall and Apollinaire were regulars in this café, as were Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and de Beauvoir.
102 Boulevard du Montparnasse
Although not open until 1927 this brasserie has paintings by Chagall and Brancusi. Before it opened, thirty artists were asked to help with the décor, including Chagall who created a column painting. In 1984, the year before he died, Chagall celebrated his final birthday here at table 73.
105 Boulevard du Montparnasse
Manager Victor Libion often took paintings in lieu of payment when he ran the café 1910 1920. La Rotonde still thrives as a friendly Parisian brasserie with plenty of history.
109 Boulevard du Montparnasse
Now a seafood restaurant, Café du Dôme opened in 1898, it was a meeting place for intellectuals, artists, writers, models and art dealers. Meals were inexpensive and décor is now 1920s style.
“I aspired to see with my own eyes what I had heard of from so far away: this revolution of the eye, this rotation of colours, which spontaneously and astutely merge with one another in a flow of conceived lines. That could not be seen in my town. The sun of art then shone only on Paris.”
French art dealer Ambroise Vollard offered Chagall a commission to illustrate Russian Nikolai Gogol’s novel The Dead Souls. He accepted and returned once more to Paris. This time he brought his family: wife Bella and daughter Ida. He created several book illustration projects for Vollard. Chagall spent several happy years in Paris. He could afford international trips and holidays in the south. He had several solo exhibitions in Paris and a retrospective in 1924.
110 Avenue D’Orléans
This street is now named Avenue du General Leclerc and is a busy shopping street. Here Chagall and family lived in the same apartment Lenin had also lived. Although still a private residence, you can view the exterior.
He lived here at 4 Villa Eugène-Manuel with his family in the 1930s. There is a plaque installed on the exterior wall.
In 1940 he fled for the South of France to escape Nazi occupation in Paris and in 1941 fled to the USA.
Since 1992 there is a street in Paris named after Chagall , Allée Marc-Chagall. It runs 153 metres long from 40 Rue Gandon to 153 Avenue d’Italie.
After World War II
In 1963, when Chagall was aged 77, he was commissioned by the French Government to create a new ceiling painting for the Paris Opéra. It’s a controversial decision at the time. It is a traditional 19th Century building, Chagall is not native to France and he is a modern artist. But it ends well when his artwork is installed to a warm reception in 1964.
open daily 10-5
closes 1pm on a matinée day
closes 6pm July – September
Home of Paris Opera. The building was designed by Charles Garnier and opened in 1875.
The ceiling took a year to complete at 220 square metres canvas. The painting has five sections each one celebrating a different composer Mozart, Wagner, Mussorgsky, Berlioz and Ravel. It also paid omage to singers and musicians. Chagall added a traditional Jewish wedding scene to his design as well as angels, lovers, animals and Parisian monuments.
Museum of History and Art of Judaism
71 Rue du Temple
open daily 11-6, closed on Saturdays
Metro: Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme opened in 1998 in the Marais district of Paris. It is situated within the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan. Exhibits apparently include a copy of the bible illustrated by Chagall and some artworks from Ecole de Paris artists.
Palais de Tokyo
aka Musée D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
11 Avenue du Président Wilson
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10-6 (10pm on Thursdays)
Metro: Alma-Marceau or Iéna
Admission free for the permanent collection only
The Dream (1927) is in the permanent collection at Palais de Tokyo. This oil on canvas is similar to the illiustrations Chagall created for a book on the circus which was never published.
aka Musée National d’Art Moderne
9 Rue Beaubourg
open daily 11 – 9 closed on tuesdays open later on Thursdays
The gallery does have several Chagall artworks in the collection but not always on display:
Russia, Asses and Others 1911-12,Double Portrait with a Glass of Wine 1917-18,
The Acrobat 1930, The Fall of Icarus 1975
Although Chagall spent most of his life in the South of France on his return from the USA, he made plenty of trips to Paris and other countries. His later life was dedicated to creating many stained glass windows for churches around the world.