A Legendary Love Story Illustrated by an Artistic Legend

sonia del re curator national gallery

Sonia Del Re a curator from the National Gallery gives us a passionate and knowledgeable introduction to Daphnis and Chloé

I was privileged to spend an hour with Sonia Del Re, a curator from Canada’s National Gallery as she led a group through the Chagall exhibit Daphnis and Chloé at the Winnipeg Art Gallery  Sonia organized the exhibit which features 42 lithographs created by Marc Chagall to illustrate a romantic Greek fable by the writer Longus. 

chagall daphnes and chloe snowstorm

Daphnis, the male protagonist of the Longus fable trudges through a storm to the home of his love, Chloé . He takes refugee under a tree filled with birds who are also seeking protection from the wind and snow

The artist Marc Chagall was born in Russia in 1887 into a Jewish family. He moved to Paris in 1910 and during World War II escaped the Holocaust thanks to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They arranged for Chagall, his wife and daughter to immigrate to the United States.  After the war, Chagall moved back to France. 

daphne and chloe chagall angry hunters

Chloe is kidnapped by angry hunters

Marc Chagall took four years to make the lithographs for Daphnis & Chloé, published in 1961. For each of the 42 illustrations, he used up to 25 colours — each requiring separate printing. Chagall travelled to Greece so he could become familiar with the setting for Daphnis & Chloé

daphnes and chloe chagall

At Daphnis and Chloé’s wedding, Chloé’s biological father recognizes the daughter he thought he had lost when she was just a baby.

The fable of Daphnis and Chloé takes place on the Greek island of Lesbos. Daphnis and Chloé are both abandoned babies discovered by two different families of shepherds who adopt them. Daphnis and Chloé experience all kinds of dramatic adventures with wolves, pirates, birds, snowstorms, kidnappers, their birth families, their adoptive families and other suitors, but eventually love triumphs and the two are married. The story is so eventful and exciting it can’t have been easy for Chagall to choose which sections of the plotline he would illustrate. 

daphnes and chloe chagall trampled flowers

Daphnis’ enemy destroys Daphnis’ master’s flower garden hoping Daphnis will be blamed for the damage

Many people think Chagall’s illustrations for Daphnis and Chloé are the greatest example of printmaking in the history of art.  

daphnes and chloe book

One of the original copies of Daphnis and Chloé has been taken apart in order to frame and display the Chagall lithographs

At the National Art Gallery, they took apart the book Daphnis and Chloé to remove the lithographs and frame them for the exhibit.  The book had 26 single pages and 16 double pages.  270 copies of Chagall’s Daphnis and Chloé were printed. One was bought by Chagall’s friend Joseph Liverant, who bequeathed the book to his stepson Felix Quinet who in turn donated it to the National Gallery in 1986. 


As Chloé sleeps a cicada being chased by a swallow crawls into Chloé 's bosom to escape. Chloé awakens frightened to the chirping of the cicada and the 'gallant' Daphnis chases the insect away.

As Chloé sleeps a cicada being chased by a swallow crawls into Chloé ‘s bosom to escape. Chloé awakens frightened by the chirping of the cicada and the gallant Daphnis chases the insect away.

Through an ongoing agreement with the National Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery arranged to have these stunning Chagall lithographs in our city.  They are well worth visiting. 

Other posts…….

The Horizon Line

The Beginning and End of Life

Parfleches for the Last Supper

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