Chagall grew up in a Hasidic community in what is today Belarus. I and the Village, painted the year after he moved to Paris, expresses his memories of the place. He shows people and animals living side by side, their mutual dependence signified by the line connecting the eyes of peasant and cow. For the Hasidim, animals were humanity’s link to the universe, and the painting’s large circular forms suggest the orbiting sun, moon (in eclipse at the lower left), and earth. Chagall used lyrical colors and disjunctive geometries to render the scene nostalgic and magical.
Gallery label from 2019
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)