“The White Crucifixion” by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) emphasizes the suffering of Jesus and the Jewish people. At the sides, violent acts against Jews occur, such as the burning of a synagogue and invaders. In the center, Jesus is shown crucified wearing a prayer shawl as a symbol that he is Jewish. The work is startling as the crucifixion, often seen as a symbol of oppression by the Jewish people, is instead being used to represent their suffering. A green figure carrying a bundle is shown crossing the foreground. This figure, who appears in several of Chagall's works, has been interpreted as being either a Jewish wanderer from Yiddish tradition or the Prophet Elijah. Two changes were made by Chagall to the work, a swastika on the armband of the soldier burning the synagogue was overpainted as well as the words "Ich bin Jude" on a placard around the neck of a man. There is also a Lithuanian flag in the upper right hand of the painting. Also, in the upper left hand portion of the painting there are the red flags of communism. Argentine-born Pope Francis was a well-established ally and friend of the Jewish people. He considered this painting to be his favorite.
Entries in Surrealism (19)
“The normally proud and seemingly self-assured Salvador Dali (1904-1989) has taken a bit of an off-ramp here – portraying himself in a melting mask of sorts, recalling his iconic melting watches. Numerous crutches – a favorite element in Dali’s arsenal of surrealist props – help support his flaccid face. The grilled bacon strip might represent Dali’s love of gastronomy, and its shriveled form echoes the “cooked,” melted morphology of his visage – but also adds a secondary ingredient of humor to this unusual and amusing feast for our eyes!” Of course, that divine handlebar mustache is still present.
Russian-born Helena Diankonova met surrealist master Salvador Dali (1904-1989) in 1929. Ten years his senior, “Gala” was then married to Paul Éluard--a French poet and one of the founders of the Surrealist movement. But an affair sparked and the two eventually wed in 1943. Gala was far more than a muse for her husband. She was also the quirky artist’s business manager--and was instrumental in his financial success. Gala was the subject of several of Dali’s paintings. Dali and Gala would often shock people by their behaviors—such as showing up at parties wearing clear plastic—wholly transparent—clothing. Dali’s colleagues didn’t like Gala (nor did his family). His fellow artists found her to be cold—and believed she was turning Dali into a caricature—and undermining the integrity of the Surrealist movement. But Dali always insisted that he would have nothing had it not been for Gala.
Between the two World Wars, painting lost some of the raw, modern energy that had characterized it at the beginning of the century. Instead, art was dominated by two rather philosophical movements, Dada and Surrealism—both of which have been treated on What About Art?. This development arose partly as a reaction to the senseless atrocities of World War I. Artists were also becoming introspective, concerned with their own subconscious dreams. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical theories were well known by this time, and painters explored their own irrationalities and fantasies in search of a new artistic freedom. But such art—an art of the fantastic—was practiced uninterrupted by artists from the Middle Ages forward—Hieronymus Bosch, Caspar David Friedrich, Francisco de Goya, and Gustave Moreau among them. A noteworthy practitioner of an art of the fantastic from the Modern era was the celebrated naive painter, Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). Known as Le Douanier, after a lifelong job in the Parisian customs office, Rousseau is a perfect example of the kind of artist in whom the artists of the day believed: the untaught genius whose eye could see much further than that of the trained artist. The term “art of the fantastic” quite aptly describes the oeuvre of this painter.
Belorussian born French painter Marc Chagall (1887-1985) composed images based on emotional and poetic associations, rather than on pictorial logic. His early works prefigure the Surrealism with which he’s most closely associated, and are among the first to express a psychic reality. Although critics often complain about the unevenness in quality among Chagall’s work (he produced a great deal of it) it is widely agreed that his art “reached a level of visual metaphor seldom attempted in modern art.”