Last Friday I was privileged to spend an hour with Sonia Del Re, a curator from Canada’s National Gallery. She led a group of Winnipeg Art Gallery staff and volunteers through our new Chagall exhibit Daphnis and Chloé. Sonia Del Re organized the exhibit which features 42 lithographs created by Marc Chagall to illustrate a romantic Greek fable by the writer Longus.
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.
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 traveled to Greece so he could become familiar with the setting for Daphnis & Chloé.
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 plot line he would illustrate.
Many people think Chagall’s illustrations for Daphnis and Chloé are the greatest example of printmaking in the history of art.
At the National Art Gallery they took apart the book Daphnis and Chloé to remove the lithographs and frame them for 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.
Through an ongoing agreement with the National Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery has been able to arrange to have these stunning Chagall lithographs in our city from May 28th to September 11th. They are well worth visiting.