Tag Archives: Marc Chagall


During my first months at college the world began to crack open.
Taking the obligatory introductory courses, each as different from the others as you might expect, I remember coming back to my room one afternoon and realizing that, despite their apparent disparity, threads of information were weaving together and overlapping such that a web of connection was beginning to form. Rather than merely providing separate pockets of information to be remembered for the inevitable test, a pathway was suddenly opening toward seeing the world as a unit composed of links and associations layered upon each other, offering a widened and enriched viewpoint reliant upon that interdependence. It was a seminal moment that has stayed with me.

The Rainbow

The Rainbow ©1967 Marc Chagall

Since then, it’s always a joy when unexpected associations appear between seemingly unrelated events/subjects, the discovery of which elevates the routine with a bit of the magical. Visiting Montreal this past weekend was one of those occasions when serendipity held the reins. Partway through the weekend I realized that the three major events we attended could not have been more interconnected, even though I wouldn’t have thought so at the onset.

VOLTA Cirque du Soleil              photo credit: Patrice Lamoureaux

First, Cirque du Soleil never, ever, disappoints. An example of sensory enrichment on overload, the troupe’s mastery of color, light, sound and daring physical feats is unsurpassed. At a time when I sometimes feel we are sadly in danger of building immunity to a state of wonder, due mainly to our media-driven saturation of deadly events and despicable behavior world-wide, it is utter pleasure to put aside any jaded perspectives for a couple of hours in order to experience the pure joy of human creativity. The current show, Volta, “is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and the power of the group to make that possible. It celebrates freedom as a movement”.

Dancer with Tambourine

Costume design for Daphnis and Chloe: Dancer with Tambourine ©1958 Marc Chagall

In hindsight it makes total sense that, in the midst of the surplus of color and visual excitement on view in Chagall: Colour and Music at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, I began to draw parallels with what I had seen under the big tent the night before. So much more than a chronological compilation of a lifetime’s work, the Chagall retrospective is also an extravaganza of color, light, sound (Chagall’s lifelong devotion to music was an integral part of his work), and daring physical feats — as seen in the trapeze artist below, or in the soaring lovers so often associated with his work.

The Blue Circus

The Blue Circus ©1950-52 Marc Chagall

Standing in a room devoted to paintings of the circus, the proverbial lightbulb went on as I realized that Chagall, who had escaped to the United States just in advance of World War II, created art that offered a source of respite and joy amid a world seemingly run amok. And similar to Cirque du Soleil, his work honors the principle Volta espouses: being wholly true to oneself. Reading the following quote on the wall of a gallery filled with Chagall’s circus collages and paintings made the connection with Cirque du Soleil all the more meaningful:

The Circus as a Metaphor for the World
Depictions of the circus, present in the imagery of Chagall’s earliest creations and an essential theme until the end of his life, arose from his vision of the world firmly rooted in Hasidism. This branch of Judaism conceives of the world as a game of divine will and apprehends God through overflowing joy, ecstasy, singing, dancing, music and acrobatics. For Hasidim, clownishness and humor are the incarnation of spiritual values that ensure the salvation of humanity. Traveling performers and musicians enlivened religious celebrations with their little shows in which biblical themes were intermingled with comic interludes, pantomimes and humorous plays accompanied by music.

Chagall stained glass

Marc Chagall

And while I was aware that Chagall had worked with stained glass toward the end of his life (read about the windows he created for the Art Institute of Chicago in this post), there was much I didn’t realize. He also designed tapestries and was a sculptor and a ceramicist. His love of opera ultimately pulled him from a deep depression and an inability to create after the sudden death of his first wife. His return to work involved designing extensive costumes and sets for multiple operatic and balletic productions, culminating in the creation of a nearly 2,600 square foot painting that now graces the ceiling of the Paris Opera House. Immersed in his colorful world, which honored music as much as visual art, the fact that he had synesthesia makes perfect sense.

Fox Costume

Fox costume designed for the ballet Aleko, Marc Chagall

As a final nod to the power of imagination and creative spectacle, we were incredibly fortunate that our visit coincided with the weekend that the giant marionettes of Royal de Luxe (a street theater company based in Nantes, France) roamed the streets of Montreal as part of its 375th birthday celebration. Leaving the Chagall exhibition, we made it to the Place des Arts just in time to get a ‘ring-side’ seat for the arrival of the Deep Sea Diver. Despite his enormity (50 ft.?), he was spectacularly deft as he strode into the square with eyes that blinked and seemed to look right at you. The acrobatics of 20-30 handlers, swarming over him like Lilliputians, brought him to life, enabling his movements via pulleys and ropes. They did nothing to break the spell he cast on the crowd and I don’t think I’m being too dramatic to say we could all only gasp in awe to be in the presence of a living giant.

Deep Sea Diver

The Deep Sea Diver arrives at Place des Arts, Montreal

Deep Sea Diver

Deep Sea Diver by Royal de Luxe

The word circus derives from the Greek kirkos, meaning “circle” or “ring”. How appropriate that these three exhibitions formed an unexpected circle of connection between each other, looping back and forth in their collective presentations of color, light, sound, and daring physical feats. And how serendipitous to have experienced them all in a single weekend.

The exhibition Chagall: Color and Music runs through June 11, 2017

Cirque du Soleil Volta will be on view in Montreal through July 23

A Mixed Bag of Reasons to Love Chicago

First of all, were you aware that the name “Chicago” is derived from a French interpretation of the Native American (Miami-Illinois language) word shikaakwa, a plant known to botanists as Allium ticoccum? More commonly referred to as ramps by Vermonters, Allium ticoccum is a species of wild onion with garlicky overtones that is a spring specialty here, soon to be foraged and served on home and restaurant tables all over our state.

Sunrise Lake Michigan

Sunrise over Lake Michigan

The genesis of the city’s name as we know it today appears to be French explorer Robert de LaSalle’s September 1687 journal, in which he noted,  “…we arrived at the said place called Chicagou which, according to what we were able to learn of it, has taken this name because of the quantity of garlic which grows in the forests in this region.”  Now that’s my kind of place!

A decade ago our daughter moved to Chicago for school and never left, so at this point we’ve visited enough times that it has become comfortably familiar while still maintaining plenty of novel opportunities and sites to explore. Just back from a long spring weekend where the forsythia is already starting to bloom (but no ramp sightings), I’ve been thinking this week how great it is to have a place to visit just frequently/infrequently enough to maintain a list of favorites to see time and again, which still somehow always seem fresh.

Gehry's Pritzker Pavillion

Millennium Park is a special place and easy to get to as it’s right next to the Art Institute. Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate may be the main attraction for most but, to me, Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavillion is the jewel in the park’s crown.

Marc Chagall’s large stained glass America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago always take my breath away and are well-worth the hike to the farthest corner of the museum to see. Secular in theme, they bring together symbols of American history, the Chicago skyline, and a representation of the arts. Please save ten minutes to watch this wonderful video from the Art Institute about the history, creation, conservation and reinstallation of this treasure.

Chagall 1

Marc Chagall, America Windows 1975-77;     Left panel representing Music and Painting

Marc Chagall 2

Marc Chagall, America Windows 1975-77;  Middle panel representing Literature and Architecture

Marc Chagall 3

Marc Chagall, America Windows, 1975-77;     Right panel representing Theater and Dance

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 * (Whistler’s Mother) by James McNeill Whistler has returned to Chicago for the first time in 60 years. As I found was also true of the Mona Lisa, its subject appears warmer and lovelier in person. Contrary to the Mona Lisa, which was much smaller than I’d expected, it was a surprise that Whistler’s Mother is almost life-size.  All that said, I was much more attracted to this relatively small painting of Whistler’s brother, appreciating it for its painterly brushstrokes and unconventional placement of the figure. The added bonus was I had it all to myself while everyone else crowded around Mrs. Whistler.

William Whistler

Portrait of Dr. William McNeill Whistler, 1871/73, Oil on panel, 43.7 x 34.8 cm (17 3/16 x 13 11/16 in.)

It’s hard to resist a visit to Dick Blick even if just to wander the aisles, but I usually keep any purchases to a minimum because of the hefty Chicago 10.25% sales tax. I’ve been on the lookout for a larger format, soft-cover sketchbook that would open flat for a double spread, yet be thin and light enough to easily tuck into a carry-on. I found two possibilities. The staplebound Fabriano EcoQua is really meant for writing, but the paper is pretty similar to a Moleskine and takes the ink from a Micron pen without bleeding.

Chairs and Shadows

Hotel Chairs and Shadows,     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                    Fabriano EcoQua 12″x8″

The other selection I brought home is the 8.5″x11″ RendR Lay Flat sketchbook made by Crescent. It boasts ‘no show thru’ paper, which was a major attraction, and I also liked the idea that it is supposed to accept all media. Despite promising a lot, now that I’ve had a chance to try it I don’t think it was worth the cost. Perhaps acrylics work better than watercolors as a wet media, but I found the paper tends to buckle and it’s hard to move wet pigment around on the page. The paper is a nice weight, has a smooth surface for pen or pencil, and doesn’t bleed. But overall, I don’t think I would buy one again.

Rendr Sketchbook

There wasn’t much time to sketch over the weekend – too many other fun things to see and do. But once back on the plane to fly home, I could bring out my trusty OPUS sketchbook, purchased on another trip in another city, and get back in the saddle.

Flight 4717

Flight #4717      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

* Worth a read: 14 Things You Might Not Know About Whistler’s Mother