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Art Journal


Year 1

No. 8

Okt 6


Chagall: Cattle Dealer

A Piece of Modern Art


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This series is not intended to be a university course. I am not an art scholar - I am just a painter. I'm going to reveal some secrets that I stumbled upon. Of course, you too may discover some of these secrets in books, but they are hard to decipher. It will be my pleasure to do so and spread the word. My motto will be, as always: Als ich kan (from a painting of Jan van Eyck, found as a citation in a modern mathematical book) which means: as good as I can).

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Because English is not my home language, I do not always express myself clearly. I hope that you are able to interpret my meaning. Also, I invite you to participate. Send me your articles and comments to be published in this journal.

Yours truly,
Signature Dr. Werner Stürenburg, Germany

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Chagall: Cattle Dealer
(scans by Mark Harden, Carol Gerten and the publisher)

(To get a blowup while offline: Connect to the internet, click here, then disconnect).

A Piece of Modern Art

We made our first round on Art Journal's "Close Look at Great Art" on Rembrandt's Bathsheba. Most people will have heard of Rembrandt, few will object to his works.

Chagall is one of the modern masters, dead in the meantime, too, and widely appreciated even among people who don't like Modern Art. He was born in 1887, died in 1985. He is a true artist of the 20th century.

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Original Work

   by Anne Stahl in Gallery Beck at Art Quarter  

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Many of Chagall's paintings are very charming, and people love him for the kind note he introduced to Modern Art. Also, he is one of the few modern artists dealing with religious themes. His many paintings on biblical stories (mostly Old Testament) have the same lovely touch as his paintings of lovers.
He dwells often on his jewish, peasant, russian, pre world war background, although he lived most of his life in western modern Paris. The Cattle Dealer is one of the paintings evoking his juvenile years in Witebsk, Russia.

The picture can easily be understood, at least today, as everybody is acquainted to abstractions as used by Chagall. Every commercial uses them freely. It was different at the time this painting was invented. People must have been shocked.

Chagall, Cattle Dealer

To this day Modern Art has to be related, much more than historical painting, and many did not understand the importance and impact Modern Art had to our life. If you surf the web, you will find many artists and art lovers desperately conserving artistic standards which were obsolete already a hundred years ago .

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Chagall was never tempted to cling to these standards. He was, as far as I know, always decidedly modern and professional. The Cattle Dealer is quite large, 97*200cm or 38x79", this alone is unusual for most painters and art lovers alike. You can see it live in Basel, Switzerland, Kunstmuseum. (Remember what I said about size with respect to Bathsheba.) At first glance, the painting seems to be naive, but it is not.
Look at the wheels of the carriage, for example! Both wheels are carefully composed to avoid any regularity, to keep things fluid and fresh, to show the eye lots of surprising details. You can look at these wheels for quite some time without getting bored. Nobody before or after ever painted wheels this way. A naive painter would take care to paint them totally alike, to make them functional. These wheels can't turn at all. They are made for the enjoyment of the eye only.
Chagall, Cattle Dealer, clipping

Look at the hubs, how different they are. Look at the spokes. These wheels are dependent on Modern Art. Cattle Dealer is painted 1912, 25 years after van Gogh showed  the vibrant  life inherent in all things.

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See my faithful copy of van Gogh's "Gypsies with Horse Carriages", painted in 1888, when Chagall was 1 year old. The whole painting tries to evoke emotions, but the detail execution is clumsy.

The wheels are painted in the manner of a naive painter, without much effort, just to get them to denote what they stand for. They are definitely not strong, independent forms invented for the painting in question.

van Gogh, Gypsies with Horse Carriages, clipping
van Gogh, Gypsies with Horse Carriages

In 1912, Gauguin, Cezanne and others had passed, Paris was the hub of the world of arts, where the "Fauves" had scandalized, Cubism had been invented by Picasso and Braque. Picasso had already left his domicile of bad days, being wealthy already, and many followers tried to catch up on Modern Art. And here comes the boy from the Russian ghetto. Not as naive as he wants us to believe.

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I chose four clippings (and you can choose a lot more), to prove the influence of cubism to you. Forms are celebrated as such. Take the blue form, for example. Would you believe that it belongs to a sheep?

The kind graphic style you see in the face is very much en vogue for some years in America. There are lots of advertisements using not stylish photographs but drawings to attract the attention of the customer (Symantec, Lotus, some others, if I'm right).

Cartoon Computer Advertisement
Chagall, Cattle Dealer, clipping
Chagall, Cattle Dealer, clipping
Chagall, Cattle Dealer, clipping
Chagall, Cattle Dealer, clipping

I wasn't prepared for it and could not find a good sample in time, but you can see what I mean from the computer cartoon I included. Graphic artists, designers, painters, all learn from each other and use the vocabulary developed by many.

Enough for the introductory issue. We have a feeling for the time, the painter, the art. Let's see next issue what the painting shows.

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 Yours truly,
Signature Dr. Werner Stürenburg, Germany

Last week:
Picasso's Bathsheba

Next week:
Chagall: Reading the Picture

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