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The School of Paris

The Watering Trough
The Watering Trough, 1923
Marc Chagall, French (born Russia)
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The School of Paris

In September 1923, after nearly a decade of living and working in his native Russia, Marc Chagall returned to Paris at the request of the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who commissioned the artist to create illustrations for new editions of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls and Les Fables by Jean de La Fontaine. The project dominated Chagall’s work over the next decade, as seen in The Watering Trough, 1923, where a bent-over woman and grinning pig share the sense of otherworldly fantasy and charm that Chagall similarly expressed in the gouaches and etchings that he made for the book commissions.

Throughout this period of prodigious painting and printmaking, Chagall once again found himself at home in the community of artists, writers, and musicians that thrived in Montparnasse during the first half of the twentieth century. In 1925, the noted French art critic André Warnod coined the term "School of Paris" to describe this eclectic, cosmopolitan group of foreign-born painters and sculptors whose number included Chagall and his former La Ruche colleagues Moïse Kisling, Jacques Lipchitz, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, and Ossip Zadkine, as well as other Montparnasse artists, such as Louis Marcoussis, Chana Orloff, and Jules Pascin. Rejecting the widespread notion that this foreign "invasion" represented a threat to French tradition, Warnod highlighted instead the profound contributions that these expatriate artists had made to modern art and French culture.

Portrait of a Polish Woman
Portrait of a Polish Woman, 1919
Amedeo Modigliani, Italian
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By the 1930s, Warnod’s unwavering critical support of Chagall and other School of Paris artists took on a sense of urgency amidst a rising tide of anti-Semitism and xenophobia sweeping across Europe, which would culminate in World War II and the Holocaust. Like many Jewish artists, including Kisling, Lipchitz, and Zadkine, Chagall was forced to flee his beloved Paris. Leaving just months before the German occupation, he first traveled south to Gordes, in the designated Free Zone, and then to the port city of Marseilles. There, on April 9, 1941, he was arrested by police from the pro-Nazi Vichy government, but was released after his friends threatened to create an international scandal by contacting the New York Times. With direct assistance from Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the director of the Museum of Modern Art, and funds donated by numerous individuals--including Louise and Walter Arensberg, who had recently acquired the artist’s Half-Past Three (The Poet)--Chagall secured an exit visa that brought him and his family safely to the United States, where they arrived on June 21, 1941.