Marc Chagall plaque, St. Petersburg

Click on photos to enlarge.

This plaque commemorating Marc Chagall was unveiled March 28, 2014. It is imagined by designer Vyacheslav Bukhaev as a palette splashed with dollops of color. At the time I photographed the plaque and environs in May 2018, they were looking rather drab. Perhaps that was mostly due to the fact that the entire building at 7 Perekupnoi Pereulok was looking rather shabby. Who knows the last time it had been painted, and huge chunks of plaster were falling away all over the place. On top of this, there were two, not one, but two, big trucks parked right in front of the building, making it almost impossible to get a good angle for photographs. As such, this may be as dreary a set of photos as I have ever posted on this blog site. But you get what you get, and I can only offer what I got. I won’t ever be in St. Petersburg again, so this is the best I’m going to do.
Chagall (1887-1985) lived in St. Petersburg during two early periods of his long life, from 1906 to 1910 when he was a student, and from 1915 to 1918, when he was already establishing himself as a major new painter. We know that he moved from Vitebsk to St. Petersburg in September 1915 to serve in the Military Industrial Committee. And we are told in a timeline put together by the surely reliable Tretyakov Gallery that he left with his family for Vitebsk in December 1917 (that would have been shortly after the revolution, or coup, as it is now often called by historians).  As such, I don’t know why this plaque has him living here into 1918, unless the family cut out quickly in December and their furniture and belongings were sent along after them following the New Year. In any case, Chagall would appear to have lived here for about two years and four months. He and his small family occupied Apt. No. 20.
The site writes about this period in Chagall’s life, which coincided with both the end of World War I and the change of regimes in Russia: “Service in the Petrograd Military Industrial Committee saved the artist from being sent to the front. At this time, Chagall rarely worked on paintings: he had to pay much attention to work and family. In 1916, he had a daughter, Ida, with Bella. In rare moments, when Marc Chagall was in the studio, he painted views of Vitebsk, portrait’s of Bella, and canvases dedicated to the war.”
Paintings made by Chagall during this time include: “The Lovers,” “The Lovers in Gray,” “The Lovers in Pink,” “Bella with White Collar,” “Purim,” and others. The spirit of St. Petersburg continued to inspire him as late as 1942, a time when he surely would have known that Leningrad, the new name of his former home, was trapped in a deadly blockade. That year he made a painting called “A Fantasy of St. Petersburg,” the backdrop for Scene IV of the ballet Aleko at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico.
After returning to his hometown of Vitebsk, Chagall was named the Commissioner for Arts of Vitebsk province, and in 1919 he founded the Vitebsk Art School.

I had the good fortune to collaborate on some work based on Chagall’s paintings for The Firebird in the summer of 2010. It was a natural for me since I had been more than a casual fan since my teens. Of all the many paintings and posters that travelled with me from home to home in my peripatetic youth, a huge cardboard print of Chagall’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” stayed with me longer than most, always finding a place of honor on my apartment walls. That aside, however, my wife Oksana Mysina and I were invited to take part in a new outdoor summer spectacle being created in 2010 at Double Edge Theatre in western Massachusetts. Director Stacy Klein had a lifelong love affair with Chagall and his work, and this was part of a larger exploration of Chagall and other Russian and Jewish influences on her and her company. They took Chagall’s Firebird paintings, originally done as backdrops for a production of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, as a starting point, and worked their way toward their own story based loosely on the ancient Russian fairy tale. Oksana was asked to join the acting company for the summer, and I was tasked with organizing and fleshing out a script based on work already done by Jennifer Johnson, Matthew Glassman and the rest of the troupe.  As we neared opening night, Carlos Uriona approached me and said that his character, a Mephistophelian sort of chap, needed something inspired to speak as he tried in vain to lure a rebellious disciple to his death in a dramatic scene played out in and on the pond at the Double Edge Theatre farm. Could I, perhaps, find him a poem to recite? As rehearsals had unfolded, I was especially taken by Carlos’s wonderfully natural actor’s instincts, very much in line with folk theater, and I said, “How about if I write you one?” Carlos, always ready to take a chance, said, “Do it!” Thus appeared in the world the short poem that follows below. It is probably more of a world influenced by The Master and Margarita than by The Firebird, but then, Double Edge had once performed a summer spectacle based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, too, so there were lots of influences flowing around us at the time. Carlos, by the way, inhabited this short poem beautifully as he miraculously walked across the water before his character sank beneath the surface and perished… I think he enjoyed performing it. I loved watching him give it life before it brought him to his death…

So, here in the mists of endless time,
Where time does naught but end and end,
Where only darkness is reflected,
I bring you now, my brazen friend.

You have rejected everything I offered,
Although I offered wealth and power,
And so I bring you to this place of death,
Where every creature meets its final hour.

Text and photos © copyright 2020 John Freedman. Poem “So, here in the mists of endless time” © copyright 2010,  copyright renewed 2020 by John Freedman.



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