Home > 2014 Courses > ARTS AND HUMANITIES > Marc Chagall and the Supremacy of Blue


Hilary Hope Guise, artist and art historian

The artist Marc Chagall was the quintessential alien in exile. ‘My homeland exists only in my exiled soul’, he said. His ever-present sense of loss surfaces in dreamlike, childhood memories – a sort of Proustian memory of lost times drawing on his Russian Hasidic Jewish roots. His sombre early Russian works give way in his youthful days in Paris to a heady Cubism, finally settling into a more narrative style and culminating in the spectacular Old Testament paintings of the 1960s in which ultramarine dominates. This deep blue, considered the colour of wisdom and the cosmos, unifies his vision in these late works.

This two-lecture course will argue that Chagall’s use of colour is mystical, with the yellow of revelation flooding the Tablets of the Law, and the white of faith surrounding the cross. His one hundred and five biblical etchings, commissioned by Ambrose Vollard, took ten years to complete. This series was followed by his breathtaking large oils now in the Museum of the Biblical Message in Nice, built for him by his friend André Malraux. His beautiful stained glass windows in the United Nations, in Israel, and in England, are enduring evidence of the supremacy of blue in his work, and of the wisdom of overcoming bitterness and hatred. Chagall’s floating figures, dreamers, brides and lovers, exist in a rootless universe where gravity has no pull, and where there are no sure foundations. His only recourse was to trust in the narratives of his ancient people, and draw on the strength of his God.

1.    An alien in exile
2.    The supremacy of blue


Course code: 1011

Date & time: Thursday 23–Friday 24 January 11.15 am


Full: R150,00

Staff: R75,00

Reduced: R37,00