By Patricia Lightfoot

When I think of Marc Chagall, I think of paintings I have seen in museums in Europe and North America that have a dream-like quality, featuring floating characters, washed in a rich and luminous blue. The superb exhibition “Chagall: Colour and music” at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts offers a whole other perspective on Chagall, the complete artist, who designed theatre sets, costumes for ballets and operas, tapestries and ceramics, and whose stained-glass windows illuminate many places of worship. As the show’s curators have highlighted, the context for this remarkable body of work lies in Chagall’s upbringing in the Jewish culture of rural Belarus and its folk tales. The title of the musical program that runs concurrently with the exhibition, “Chagall’s painting as you’ve never heard it before,” could be applied to the exhibition itself. The frequent imagery of the fiddler in Chagall’s paintings, drawn from his roots in the shtetl, is highlighted by recordings by Itzhak Perlman among others. Just as the sound of the fiddle changes from sombre to plaintive to wild joyfulness in klezmer music, such a range of emotions can be seen in Chagall’s paintings, from the grandfather clock with one wing standing desolate in a snowy village, which was painted soon after the death of his beloved wife Bella, to the exuberance of works such as the sketch called Clown with a Green Goat.

The exhibition Chagall: Colour and music at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has been extended to Tuesday, June 13. It is well worth seeing.

Photo credit: Phil Lightfoot