Form and Content
With Marc Chagall, Howard Greenfeld has written a biography stressing the positive and personal side of the artist. The book begins with a brief preface discussing Greenfeld’s own meeting with Chagall and the author’s admiration for him. The text then takes on a storylike quality, offering a fictional glimpse of Chagall as a young boy wandering through his hometown. The reader is told that Chagall added a quality of “magic” to whatever he saw and that he would become one of the leading painters of the twentieth century. The biography continues in this fashion, following Chagall through specific scenes as he discovered what he wanted to do with his life, persuaded his family to allow him to travel to the art school run by Jehuda Pen, and rose through other art schools and experiences to become a renowned artist. In the meantime, Chagall met and eventually married Bella Rosenfeld.
The chapters are short and have a strong narrative form. Brief passages indicate the historic events that were of importance in Chagall’s life. For example, a Jewish artist from Russia could not help but be affected by the Russian Revolution and by World War II. There are also passages indicating the various artistic and intellectual movements, especially those in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century, that affected Chagall’s artistic development. Greenfeld stresses, however, that Chagall had to remain true to his own singular artistic vision. The biography contains some discussion of artistic techniques, but very little, and there is a bit more discussion of the content of Chagall’s works. Both subjects are kept at an easily understood level.
Marc Chagall provides sixteen pages of excellent color plates and twenty-eight pages of black-and-white reproductions placed roughly near corresponding narrative sections. Greenfeld has also included a brief list for further reading on Chagall and a list of the illustrations, but there are no index, notes, or real bibliography. The writing style is straightforward and easy to read. The syntax, the diction, and any references are made with the young reader in mind.