NOTE: This page's content is part of the JUF News archives. To see the latest content from Jewish Chicago: The JUF Magazine, please visit Jewish-Chicago.org.

‘Sharing Chagall’

Author shares stories of Marc Chagall—the artist, the person, the friend.

Chagal bride groom image
Marc Chagall’s “The Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower” (1938-1939)

So much has been written about Marc Chagall, the artist, but less on Marc Chagall, the person.  

That’s where Chicago native Vivian Jacobson enters the picture. Jacobson, who now lives in North Carolina, befriended the famed Jewish artist in the last decade of his life. She adored Chagall and believed in his message of “hope, peace, reconciliation, and love,” now sharing Chagall and his legacy with the public in her recent book “Sharing Chagall: A Memoir” (Belleray Press). 

In the summer of 1974, Chagall visited Chicago, one of his favorite cities, for the dedication of the landmark mosaic called “The Four Seasons” at First National Plaza. Jacobson, then in her late 30s, thought her Chicago Chapter of Hadassah should honor the artist, and offered to hold a soiree at her Chicago home. Informed that Chagall liked several kinds of sweets, particularly chocolate, she was advised to offer an array of chocolate pastries and candies, and that he liked his coffee light and his tea strong. She would also soon learn that Chagall loved Frango Mints from Chicago’s now defunct flagship Marshall Field’s store; over the course of their friendship, Jacobson would pick him up a package for the artist every chance she could.  

Upon first meeting at her home, Jacobson and the artist spoke in Yiddish, bonding in the language, and a friendship was born.   

 "Little did I realize on that special day that for the next 11 years, I would become intricately involved in the life and work of Chagall,” said Jacobson, who today gives lectures on the artist. 

 Chagall was born into a Hasidic family in 1887 in Vitebsk, Belarus, a time and place when being Jewish was a daily struggle, plagued by pogroms and tumult. Eventually, Chagall would settle with his second wife, Vava, in Southern France. (His first wife, Bella, died suddenly from illness.)  

As a painter, a sculptor, and a poet, he would express his childhood shtetl life combined with Biblical themes again and again using magical realism. “People would ask him why he continually painted the same themes,” said Jacobson. “His answer was that the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters and the poet uses the same letters all the time,” so why shouldn’t he?  

“When you look at a Chagall painting, and you see a bride and groom on a horse and animals surrounding them and people floating upside down, that’s magical realism,” said Jacobson. “The realism is the bride and groom on the horse, the magic is the placement of the objects and the story he is trying to tell.” 

There is no chronology in Chagall’s art, according to Jacobson. He would couple the Bible’s Noah and the rainbow with his hometown Vitebsk synagogue burning in the background, surrounded by pogroms. 

His artwork, including his famed stained glass windows, tapestries, and mosaics, appears in cities around the world, at ballets, theaters, opera houses, and museums. Other than Jerusalem, Chicago is the only city in the world to house all three of Chagall’s mediums—“The Four Seasons” mosaic, the “Job Tapestry” at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and the “America Windows,” currently in storage at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

The Art Institute conjures childhood memories for Jacobson. It was there she first saw a Chagall painting, the “White Crucifixion.” It was then that her love for Chagall’s art began.  

Jacobson always felt a connection to Chagall because of their common Eastern European Jewish roots. Her father was a Russian immigrant and her mother immigrated to the States from Poland. Raised with a strong Jewish upbringing, Jacobson attended Anshe Emet Synagogue and the College of Jewish Studies in Chicago, as well as Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. She later became a swimming instructor and director for Jewish camps.  

Despite Chagall’s own persecution in Russia, he always delivered a message of reconciliation through his artwork, according to Jacobson. “Chagall had a right to be angry at the world because he lived in a 100-year period where there was a lot of hate and anger. There were pogroms, two World Wars, Nazis, the Vietnam War. No matter how bad the world got, he always hoped for a better world. He gave a message of hope, peace, reconciliation, and love in every single one of his artworks.” 

In the 1970s, he was commissioned to create stained glass windows for St. Stephan Catholic Church in Mainz, Germany, based on the Old Testament and an interpretation of the resurrection of Jesus. The windows, according to Jacobson, were an artistic symbol of the new friendship between France, Chagall’s adopted country, and Germany, and a pledge of international understanding and a commitment to world peace. It was considered a reconciliation between two countries post-World War II and two great religions.  

The message of reconciliation influenced Jacobson’s own husband, Ralph, whose father was strangled to death by Nazis in 1938. Back then, Ralph’s father, Ernst Jacobson, had opposed the demolition of a synagogue torn down to build a Gestapo headquarters. Chagall’s windows helped Ralph reconcile the ugly circumstances surrounding his father’s death. 

It’s been more than a quarter century since Chagall passed away at age 97. And still, Jacobson spreads his message of peace to as many people as she can. 

“Some people give so much to the world while they are living that when they are no longer on this earth, they continue to live in the hearts and minds of mankind,” she writes in her book. “Such was the distinction and legacy of Marc Chagall.” 

Vivian Jacobson is available for book signings and lectures. To order her book or to learn more, visit www.vivianjacobson.com or e-mail her at ravi@pinehurst.net. 



AdvertisementBrogan and Partners
AdvertisementSpertus New Generation
AdvertisementSelfHelp Home
Connect with us