Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio
Chagall was born in 1887 in the town of Vitebsk, Russia (now in Belarus), attending a traditional Jewish school and a Russian high school, before moving to St Petersburg in 1907. There he studied at the Imperial School for the Protection of the Fine Arts, and later at the Zvantseva School, led by Léon Bakst. In 1910, Chagall arrived in Paris, where he settled at La Ruche, meeting Jewish artists including Amedeo Modigliani and key figures in French modernism such as Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay. Chagall’s first solo exhibition took place at Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin in 1914. That same year, war broke out while Chagall was visiting his family in Russia, preventing his return to Paris. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Chagall was appointed Fine Arts Commissar for his home province of Vitebsk, but in 1922 left for Berlin, where his work was published by the periodical Der Sturm. He returned to Paris in 1923, becoming a French citizen in 1937 and remaining until 1940.
During the Second World War Chagall sought refuge in New York, where a major retrospective was held at The Museum of Modern Art in 1946. In 1948 he returned to France, settling in the south-eastern village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1952. In later life, Chagall produced stained-glass schemes for churches including the chapel at Tudeley, Kent.
This important gouache, ink and pencil study was probably executed in April 1945 during Chagall’s exile in New York. It is thought to be the first work he produced following a period of mourning for his late wife, Bella (who had died suddenly in September 1944). Created in direct response to seeing the horrors of the extermination camps revealed through newspapers and Pathé newsreels, Chagall’s hermaphrodite Jewish Christ symbolises both male and female victims of the Holocaust. Previously, Chagall’s crucifixions had symbolised the Nazi’s Jewish victims in order to remind Christians that Christ was a Jew. However, here the artist alludes to the Holocaust for the first time. The clock in the top right of the study is missing a hand, commemorating the start of the apocalypse. Below, a series of complex and horrific scenes uncover the extent of Jewish suffering, among them another crucifixion, a hanging and a boatload of refugees. Chagall revisited the work in 1947 when considering an oil painting on the Apocalypse theme.
One of two works by Chagall in the Ben Uri Collection, Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio was unveiled at a special exhibition to mark its acquistion, at Osborne Samuel in Mayfair in 2010, with a new text by Chagall expert Professor Ziva Amishai-Maisels. Chagall’s work was first exhibited at Ben Uri in 1934 and has since been shown on numerous occasions including Chagall and his Circle (2006) and From Russia to Paris: Chaïm Soutine and his Contemporaries in 2012, reconfigured as Soutine, Chagall and the School of Paris at Manchester Jewish Museum in 2013 simultaneous to the major Chagall show at Tate Liverpool. Most recently, it was loaned to the important Chagall retrospective in New York (2013), Milan (2014) and Brussels (2015).