Situated high on the hill above the city of Nice is the exquisitely designed museum housing some of Chagall’s finest paintings and stained glass. Upon my visit I was automatically struck by such vivid colors, so passionately utilized on canvases that tell stories of love, fear, hope, and faith. On his storybook canvases, Russia is burning with reds, people are fleeing their homes in shades of browns. His moods are depicted in various blues. In glorious greens, a white angel is appearing to Noah promising a new covenant between G-d and man. Color and story are his vocabulary for creativity and message. The open and flowing layout of the rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out onto mosaic tile pools and delicate gardens, makes walking through this beautiful building a feast for all your senses and beyond.
I’m always in awe upon entering the plaza at Lincoln Center to be welcomed by the massive Chagall stained-glass windows that set the stage for the epicenter of opera, ballet, and music in New York City.
Marc Chagall is one of our Jewish artistic treasures. Dare I say, he might be our greatest contribution to the greater art world.
Marc Zakharovich Chagall, born in 1887, found artistic inspiration from his upbringing in Vitebsk, Belorussia. This is clearly found by his adaptation of the legendary tale of Chaim the Painter, in which he assumes the role of the grandfather of this fictitious artist. The story goes as follows: A man named Chaim Segal, the son of Isaac Segal (Chagall’s family name was Segal before it was changed by Chagall) painted in three synagogues in three different towns, and when he completed painting he fell off his ladder and died. Each synagogue claimed the fable as their own.
There he connected with Max Vinaver, who quickly became his patron, allowing Chagall to move to Paris with a generous monthly allowance. Chagall developed his unique style in these years prior to World War I. After the war, Chagall remained in Russia until 1922. Works from this time are included in his mural at the Moscow Jewish Theatre.
In 1930, Ambroise Vollard commissioned Chagall to create illustrations to the Bible, which enabled him to travel to Israel. His biblical message series is best seen in his museum in Nice that opened in 1972.
In 1937, the Nazis confiscated 650 works from German museums for an exhibit of “degenerate art,” which planned on cataloging and mocking the destruction of the Jewish people. Chagall’s work was among this collection of annihilation. He sought refuge in the United States, and after the death of his first wife he then returned to France. All through his life he translated his own and his people’s experiences onto the canvas. Pogroms, dreams, romance, faith, and fortune were all documented into his enormous range of color.
Where does color find placement in Judaism? The message of color is seen throughout the Torah. Joseph’s brightly colored coat initiated jealousy and outrage from his brothers. Red unblemished heifers provide the ultimate ritual cleansing with their ashes. The precise shade of blue is woven into the costume worn by the High Priest.
However, I find the most in-depth reality to color in Kabbalistic teaching. The correspondence between the Divine emanations/sefirot and their associated colors is taught by Rabbi Joseph Tzayach (c. 1500 C.E.) and explored and explained further by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (author of the “Code of Jewish Law”) in his book Pardes Rimonim.
The Divine sefirot and their allegorical colors are as follows:
Crown/keter: A blinding invisible light.
The sefirot of intellect:
- Wisdom/chochmah: includes all colors
- Understanding/binah: yellow and green
The seven sefirot of emotion:
- Loving-kindness/chesed : white and silver
- Strength/judgment/restraint/gevurah: red and gold
- Beauty/mercy/tiferes: yellow and violet
- Eternity/victory/netzach: light pink
- Splendor/humility/hod : dark pink
- Foundation/connection/yesod : orange
- Sovereignty/malchus: blue
Hashem created color to be used in many different circumstances. Marc Chagall lived in color and transferred it so that all generations after him can still bask in his hue of life.
I hope that the palette and path of your life will connect you to the colorful moments G-d has blessed you with.
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Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.