New discoveries in Chagall’s paintings were made by researchers of the Stedelijk Museum


The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has completed a major five-year research project on the materials and technical aspects of nine paintings by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) from its collection. At the international level, this is the first time that a number of the artist’s paintings have been studied so deeply and compared with each other. The results are of great value to art historians and restorers around the world.

The researchers gained new insights into the structure of Chagall’s paintings, the materials he used, how he reused canvases, changed compositions, painting techniques and the use of pigments. The museum offered a unique context for this project, with nine famous paintings taken in the study covering 35 years of the master’s work – a significant part of his career. It allows comparing the works with each other and tracing the artist’s development.

In total, Stedelijk’s collection includes 40 works by Marc Chagall; of the nine “test subjects”, six belong directly to the museum and three are on long-term lease from the Dutch state.

New discoveries in Chagall's paintings were made by researchers of the Stedelijk Museum
The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam presented the results of a five-year study of nine paintings by Marc Chagall. Photo: Chicago Tribune
One of the most notable discoveries was the drawing under the colorful surface of the painting “Synagogue in Safed, Israel”. The illumination of the painting showed a completely different scene there. If this horizontal canvas is rotated 45 degrees, the hidden image is strikingly similar to another painting of Chagall – a portrait of his daughter Ida by the window. It is also in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum.

Under the rest of the works there was not a single hidden drawing on a fundamentally different theme – in most cases the footsteps are associated with the composition of the final painting. In the same work Chagall gave up early paintings in the spirit of cubism and folklore – a style that combined the fabulous images of his homeland with a new life.

Марк Захарович Шагал. Скрипач
Mark Zakharovich Chagall
1913, 188×158 cm
The conservatives made another wonderful discovery. In “The Street Violinist”, which Chagall wrote on a plaid tablecloth, he seems to have cells on cloth as a grid for houses in the composition. Chagall created “The Violinist” shortly after his arrival in Paris. He was desperate for money, which probably explains why he used the tablecloth – he often said that he painted on everything that came into his hand. This type of tablecloth is typical of gossip in Vitebsk, the city where the artist himself was born and where his wife Bella lived at that time. Maybe she put a tablecloth in his luggage.

As “Violinist” has such an unusual basis, the work is especially fragile, considering that tablecloths have weaker weaving than canvas. Moreover, Chagall did not use a textbook for beginners in this work. The footsteps show some minor changes in the background. For example, Chagall sketched a small character in blotchy trousers, his hands touching his head and reaching for something on a tree. But the figure was not painted.

In the painting “The Idyll of Love” conservatives found that the green color was originally much lighter than it seems now. This change requires further study of the chemical behaviour of certain pigments used by Chagall. This is all the more important now that the project has established that the artist has used at least eight identical pigments during his career.

Eight of the nine paintings included in the project will be on display from September 21 at Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian and others. Migrant Painters” in Paris. From the rich collection of the Stedelijk Museum it will feature works by over 50 artists, photographers and graphic designers. Moreover, for the first time in almost 70 years, visitors will be able to see Chagall’s extensive collection: 40 works, including eight iconic paintings, some of which have been restored specifically for the exhibition.


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