Love and fantasy go hand in hand | Marc Chagall / Bella Rosenfeld Chagall

Marc Chagall, Over the Town, 1918 


Over the Town shows Chagall and his wife, Bella Rosenfeld Chagall, flying above Vitebsk,
 which is a small town where he grew up. Over the Town is a celebration of their love and
 how they became unified as a couple once married.

That's how Chagall's fiance, Bella Goldenberg, remembered the elation of their engagement:

"I suddenly felt as if we were taking off. You too were poised on one leg, as if the little 
room could no longer contain you. You soar up to the ceiling. Your head turned down 
to me, and turned mine up to you... We flew over fields of flowers, shuttered houses,
 roofs, yards, churches."

Marc and Bella Chagall, 1920

They fell for each other in 1909 in Saint Petersburg. Bella Rosenfeld, who was a 
19-years-old daughter of a wealthy Russian jeweller, and Marc, seven years her 
senior, a painter still attending an art school.
They both said it was love at the first sight. Bella, who was to become 
a talented writer, described how Marc looked on their first encounter: 

"When you did catch a glimpse of his eyes, they were as blue as if they’d fallen 
straight out of the sky. They were strange eyes … long, almond-shaped … 
and each seemed to sail along by itself, like a little boat."

Marc Chagall, The Promenade, 1918

Marc Chagall wrote about this meeting in My Life, his autobiography: 

"Her silence is mine, her eyes mine. It is as if she knows everything about 
my childhood, my present, my future, as if she can see right through me."

Marc Chagall, Study for ‘The Birthday’, 1915
Marc Chagall, Birthday. 1915

In 1911, Marc left for Paris to study art from the leading artists of his day leaving Bella
 in Russia. However, he didn’t speak French and the beginnings were very tough as he

“felt like fleeing back to Russia, as he daydreamed while he painted, about the riches 
of Russian folklore, his Hasidic experiences, his family, and especially Bella”.

He stayed in Paris until 1914 when he couldn’t last any longer without his fiancée,
who was still in Vitebsk. He thought about her day and night, writes Baal-Teshuva,
the artist’s biographer. Chagall, afraid of losing Bella, accepted an invitation from an
art dealer in Berlin to exhibit his work because he wanted to later continue on to
Belarus and marry Bella, and then return with her to Paris.

Marc Chagall and his wife Bella Rosenfeld in his workshop in Paris, 1926

The next challenge was to convince Bella’s parents that he would be a suitable husband
 for their daughter. He had to demonstrate that despite being just a painter from a poor 
family he would be able to support her. They married in 1915 and Bella quickly 
became Marc’s primary muse who featured on his canvases for the rest of his life. 
In 1916 they had a daughter Ida but that didn’t stop Bella to begin acting as her 
husband’s  manager. After the end of the WWI, they moved to France where 
Chagall could spread his painterly wings.


André Kertész, Marc and Bella Chagall, Paris, 1929                              André Kertész, Marc Chagall, wife Bella, and daughter Ida

The years passed and the second world war broke out. With the help of their daughter,
 the Chagalls escaped to the States. Yet, suddenly, Bella died. She had a virus infection, 
which was not treated due to the wartime shortage of medicines. The grieving Chagall 
stopped all work for many months, and when he began again, his first pictures were 
concerned with preserving Bella’s memory. Moreover, he kept her notebook which 
he kept on illustrating for the next 20 years! He filled the blank pages with movingly 
colourful portraits of them both together.

Marc Chagall, Le Baiser Or Les Amoureux En Bleu, 1930


"Love and fantasy go hand in hand." 

 Marc Chagall


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