Lives of the Artists III

In 1910, Marc Chagall was desperate. He wanted to go to Paris but couldn’t afford it. He was biding his time in Vitebsk, his birth place, and painting furiously. His girlfriend Bella was in town as well and posing in the nude for him. For their Orthodox Jewish families, this was unspeakably shocking. Chagall’s mother saw one of his paintings of Bella hanging on the wall. He wrote in his memoirs:

“What’s that?”

A naked woman, breasts, dark spots.

I’m embarrassed; so is she.

“Take that girl away!” she says.

“Dear little Mama! I love you very much. But … haven’t you ever seen yourself in the nude? As for me, I only look and sketch her, that’s all.”

However, I obeyed my mother. I put away the canvas and, in place of that nude, I painted another picture, a procession.

(From Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, Penguin, 2010.)

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