Trivium Art History
Marc Chagall

Purim

Purim, 1917 — Marc Chagall,
50.5 cm71.9 cm

In this colorful village scene, Chagall conflates childhood memories, Biblical stories, Russian folktales, and contemporary happenings. The title refers to a Jewish festival commemorating the deliverance of Persian Jews from the Persian noble Haman, as recorded in the Book of Esther. The two central figures in the painting are preparing to exchange food and sweets, as the festival requires, while a grim-faced stallkeeper attends to a customer in the right-hand corner. In the background is a tiny man on horseback silhouetted against a blue backdrop. Although the background setting itself is a contemporary Russian peasant village, the small figures on poles at the upper left may represent Haman's sons, who were hung for their misdeeds. Purim is a striking example of Chagall's manipulation of scale and narrative content, as well as of his vivid palette and distinctively naïve drawing style. This composition, dominated by a huge field of red, was one of many studies for a series of murals planned for a Jewish secondary school. Although these were never executed, the studies have survived, suggesting the boldness of Chagall's vision.

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Marc Chagall —

A painter of inner and outer worlds