Chagall remained “most emphatically a Jewish artist, whose work was one long dreamy reverie of life in his native village of Vitebsk,” according to art historian Michael J. Lewis.
“Dreamy” is also an apt descriptor for a special exhibit of Chagall’s work on view through Sept. 8 at Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N. Prospect Ave. The characters depicted in the show are at once familiar and fantastic. Loose-limbed acrobats leap through golden hoops. Two-headed musicians play songs under packed circus tents. Dancers look so light on their feet that they could float away.
The show includes all 38 limited- edition lithographs that make up Chagall’s 1967 “Le Cirque” portfolio. On loan from Manitowoc’s Rahr- West Art Museum, the portfolio has been publicly exhibited in the United States in its entirety only once before.
Jewish Museum Milwaukee curator Molly Dubin says it’s a coup that it ended up here. “The circus is something that Chagall felt encapsulated much of the human condition,” she says. “There was certainly comedy but also tragedy.”
Chagall’s granddaughter Bella Meyer, who flew to Milwaukee for the opening of the exhibit, agrees. “He understood that life is hard, but he always showed the good alongside the bad,” she says. “Maybe that’s his Hasidic upbringing, an old Jewish way of looking for joy and wanting to see the good.”