A Farewell to Art: Chagall, Shakespeare and Prospero is a touring show from Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, London, showcasing a rare, limited-edition portfolio by Marc Chagall.
Produced at the age of 88, it features 50 illustrations created to reflect his interpretation of Shakespeare’s magical play, The Tempest. This edition of the play was published by Éditions André Sauret, under the supervision of Charles Sorlier in September 1975. The original lithographs by Marc Chagall were printed on the presses of Fernand Mourlot in Paris.
The exhibition draws on a number of themes, including the relationship between Shakespeare’s Renaissance aristocratic characters in The Tempest and Chagall’s own imaginary mythological world. The curatorial argument of this new exhibition is that Chagall saw Shakespeare’s Tempest as symbolic of the tempest that engulfed his own life and the traumatic experiences of European Jews in the first half of the twentieth century.
Chagall knew the pain of being a refugee, having recognised his future lay outside Russia. He settled in Paris in 1907 and then, after being caught in his home town of Vitebsk during the First World War, eventually managed to return in 1923. He was then forced into exile from his home in Paris in 1941 due to Nazi occupation and escaped to New York. It would be perfectly understandable if he compared himself to the exiled Prospero.
Towards the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the lead character Prospero famously gives up his ‘rough magic’ and 'drowns his book'. Many have read Prospero’s abdication of magic as symbolic of Shakespeare’s own farewell to writing, as The Tempest is recognised as the last complete play he wrote. Chagall’s illustrations add many different dimensions and can be interpreted in many ways as his own ‘farewell’ to his frenetic artistic output on projects of this scale.
Marc Chagall, While Miranda sleeps, Prospero summons Ariel, 1975, Lithograph, 42.5 × 32.5 cm. Chagall ®/© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.
Marc Chagall, The heads of Ferdinand and Miranda, circled by the moon, above the island landscape, 1975, Lithograph, 42.5 × 32.5 cm. Chagall ®/ © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.