Picasso and Chagall: Two Thought-Provoking Art Books

Chagall: Love, War, and Exile
Susan Tumarkin Goodman
Yale University Press and the Jewish Museum of New York, 2013

Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica
T.J. Clark
Princeton University Press, 2013

Chagall and Picasso are two artists from the midst of what has been called Europe’s darkest age: the twentieth century, an age of violence unprecedented in human history. These two beautiful art books offer striking presentations of some of their works in rich color on oversized pages. Though Chagall and Picasso created art in response to the realities of their time, they both also held onto some of the sensibilities of the nineteenth century. Clark argues that “many of the artists who matter most in the twentieth century still lived instinctively within the limits of bourgeois society” and that “this was why their art took a retrogressive form.” Referencing both Picasso’s Guernica and Nude in a Black Armchair, Clark notes that the intertwining of “pain and abandon, panic and orgasm, or self-loss and self-absorption,” is basic to Picasso’s worldview.

Susan Tumarkin Goodman highlights the darkest period in Marc Chagall’s life, perhaps unintentionally challenging the view of Chagall as a romanticist selling cheap views of East European Jewry to a growing market for nostalgia. Goodman presents us with Chagall’s world in the 1930s and 1940s, “as he grappled with the world drama that had upended his life, sent him into exile, and destroyed the culture of his childhood.” Moving to Paris in 1923, partly to escape the anti-Semitism of his Russian youth, Chagall was shocked by the return of virulent anti-Semitism in France and “began to create remarkable images of Jewish suffering and persecution.” What is most striking about this book is its exploration of how Chagall produced paintings of Jesus’s crucifixion as an expression of the Holocaust, even while understanding that one source of anti-Semitism was the belief that the Jews had caused the crucifixion.


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