Móyshe Shagál (the Hebrew name of Marc Chagall) was born on July 7, 1887 in Liozno, near Vitebsk, Russia (now Belarus). As a child, he showed promise as an artist and in 1907, after moving to St. Petersburg, he studied at the Imperial School of Fine Arts, and privately under Russian artist Léon Bakst at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting.
After gaining some success in St. Petersburg, Chagall moved to Paris in 1910 and would spend most of his life there. During his first years, he met members of the avant-garde such as Modigliani, Delaunay, Leger and others working in the cubist style. Chagall was influenced by Fauvism, Cubism, and the Paris School, however his art was a blend of his own style of fantasy and his unique way of depicting events and separating them by time and space in a single composition. Chagall painted his memories of his life in Russia and Jewish folklore, biblical stories, and the circus were often themes in his artwork. He had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin in 1914.
Chagall returned to Vitebsk in 1914, and a year later he married Bella Rosenfeld. The outbreak of World War I kept the Chagalls in Russia and in 1916, Bella gave birth to their daughter Ida. An active participant in the Russian Revolution of 1917, Chagall was Commissar of Art for the Vitebsk region and founded the Vitebsk Museum of Modern Art and an art school. However, life under the Soviet system where Jews were considered non-persons was difficult for the Chagalls. He and Bella moved back to Paris in 1922.
In 1941, with the Nazi occupation of France, the Chagalls escaped Paris to the United States where Bella died in 1944. In 1945, he began a relationship with his housekeeper Virginia Haggard McNeil, with whom he had a son, David. They returned to France in 1948 but separated in 1952, and Chagall married Valentina Brodsky.
Chagall was a pioneer of modernism and was as popular during his lifetime as he is today. A versatile artist, Chagall also produced drawings, prints, etchings, ceramics, book illustrations, stage designs and was a major artist in stained glass. In his later years, he received numerous commissions for murals and decorative projects that made him a celebrity around the world.
Chagall had a long, prolific career and when he died of a heart attack on March 28, 1985 at the age of 97, the front-page headline in The New York Times declared him to be “One of Modern Art’s Giants.”