Marc Chagall I and the Village 1911

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 503 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

Chagall grew up in a Hasidic Jewish community in what is today Belarus. I and the Village, painted the year after he moved to Paris, evokes his memories of the place. He shows people and animals living side by side, their mutual dependence signified by the lines connecting the eyes of peasant and cow. The artist recalled of his childhood, “Lines, angles, triangles, squares carried me far away to enchanting horizons.” The vibrant colors and loose geometries Chagall used to render the scene nostalgic and magical signal his awareness, among other things, of the new fractured and fragmented visual language of Cubism, which he encountered in Paris.

Gallery label from 2024
Additional text

At the center of this painting, the faces of a goat and a man meet, their pupils connected by a faint and uneven white line. The contours of their noses, cheeks, and chins form the basis of a set of interlocking diagonals, concentric circles, planes of color, and fragmented forms. This central pair is joined by floating figures and vignettes that are interspersed, dreamlike, throughout the composition: at left, a woman milks a cow; above, a floating face appears in a church entrance; a row of houses features two that are upside down.

Chagall painted I and the Village one year after moving from Russia to Paris, where he joined a vibrant community of international artists known as La Ruche (The Beehive), so called for their proximity and productive exchange, which took place in the neighborhood of Montparnasse. Inspired in part by the recent development of Cubism, I and the Village displays Chagall’s distinct vocabulary of abstraction, characterized by fantastic colors and folkloric imagery drawn from memories of the artist’s Belarus home, a peasant town on the outskirts of Vitebsk. The title of this work, supplied by the poet Blaise Cendrars, Chagall’s close friend, evokes the relationship of the artist to his home and puns on the interpenetrating eyes of its central figures.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Oil on canvas
6' 3 5/8" x 59 5/8" (192.1 x 151.4 cm)
Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund
Object number
© 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Painting and Sculpture

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Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

Acquired by Nell Walden (1887-1975), Berlin, 1916 [1]; returned to Marc Chagall, Paris, 1926 [2]; purchased from the artist by René Gaffé, Brussels, February 22, 1926 [3]; acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, June 13, 1945.

[1] Karoline Hille, Marc Chagall und das deutsche Publikum, Cologne: Böhlau, 2005, p. 55, p. 271, no. 15. Included in Chagall's solo exhibition at Herwarth Walden's Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin, [May/June] 1914. Herwarth Walden, Expressionismus: Die Kunstwende, Berlin: Der Sturm, 1918, p. 21.
[2] See letter Nell Walden, Schinznach to James Johnson Sweeney, New York, November 14, 1946, Collection files, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
[3] Reproduced in René Gaffé, "Réflexions d'un collectionneur," Cahiers de Belgique, vol. 2, no. 2 (February 1929), p. 60. Included in the exhibition Art In Our Time: 10th Anniversary Exhibiton, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, May 10-September 30, 1939, no. 184. On extended loan from Gaffé to The Museum of Modern Art, New York during the war.

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