"Troyer", Poems by David Hofstein – Published by Kultur Lige – Kiev, 1922 – Illustrations by Marc Chagall
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Troyer [Sorrow], by David Hofstein. Kiev: Kultur Lige, 1922. Yiddish. Illustrations by Marc Chagall.
A poetry cycle by David Hofstein dealing with the pogroms against Ukrainian Jews during the years 1917-1920; accompanied by a series of illustrations by Marc Chagall. The book was published with the support of the "Public Jewish Committee for Assisting Victims of War, Riots and Natural Disasters" and it states: "All profits go to the starving Jewish colonies".
The illustration of Hofstein's cycle of poems was one of Chagall's last projects before leaving Russia. The modernist illustrations reflect not only the sense of destruction and sorrow in Hofstein's poems but also, to a certain extent, the upheavals in the life of Chagall, who was forced at the time to retire from his position as director of the art school he had founded in Vitebsk.
XXIII,  pp +  plates, approx. 31 cm. Good-fair condition. Brittle paper. Closed and open tears to edges (most of them small). One of the illustration plates is detached. Stamp on verso of the title page ("Printed in U.S.S.R."). New, hard cover, with most of the original front cover laid down (its margins are trimmed). Missing original back cover.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985), a Russian-French artist, is considered by many the greatest Jewish modern painter. Chagall was born to a Hassidic family in Liozna (then in Belarus), the eldest of nine siblings. When his mother asked his first art teacher, the painter Yehuda Pen, whether her son could earn a living from painting, Pen looked at Chagall's sketches and told her: "Yes, he has some ability". At the age of twenty, he was accepted to study art in St. Petersburg (during this period, he painted for the first time the figure of the Fiddler on the Roof, after which the famous musical is named) and in 1914 married the writer Bella Rosenfeld, who became known as one of his greatest sources of inspiration.
After the October Revolution, Chagall was appointed commissar of arts for the Vitebsk district, where he established an art museum and school. Among the teachers of the school were the artist El Lissitzky and the painter Yehuda Pen – Chagall's first teacher. In 1919, another painter was invited to teach at the school, who was one of the most revolutionary and influencing artists in those years – Kazimir Malevich. Malevich held an artistic view which was more radical than Chagall's and wanted to instill his students with the artistic style he himself had developed – Suprematism. His charismatic figure and new outlook attracted many supporters and in 1920, a collective was established in the school (UNOVIS), which adopted the principles of his doctrine. Gradually, Malevich and his supporters gained power and influence, taking Chagall's place in the managing of the school and finally, changing the curriculum. Subsequently, Chagall decided to leave Russia.
In 1920, Chagall moved to Western Europe and after a short stay in Berlin settled in Paris. During this period, he created the important series "My Life", which documented the views of the Jewish town, and the series of bible illustrations. In 1941, approx. two years after the occupation of France by Nazi Germany, Chagall succeeded in escaping to the USA with the assistance of the American journalist Varian Fry. For several years he lived in New York, returning to France after the war, where he remained until his death.
Chagall's works of art, which embrace a wide variety of fields and styles (prints, theater sets and costumes, sculpture and ceramics, tapestry, mosaics, stained glass, and more), are exhibited in leading museums and galleries, in the opera houses of New York and Paris, in the Mainz Cathedral, in the Knesset (in a space named "The Chagall Lounge") and elsewhere. The painter Pablo Picasso said of his work: "When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is".