The wall paintings that Marc Chagall created in the winter of 1920-21 for the interior of the State Jewish Chamber Theater in Moscow are in marvelous, dreamy, pale colors. These paintings are packed with activity; they present Chagall’s panoramic vision of a Yiddish theater that is a theater of life. Chagall reimagines the old Jewish world of the shtetl in an exaggerated, stylized form, and in the process he creates a modern mythology of origins and transformations.

At the center of the largest, mural-size composition, Introduction to the Jewish Theater, Chagall presents Chagall himself, carried in the arms of the great Russian art critic Abram Efros. The weight of narrative that the artist is holding aloft in these paintings is considerable, yet he carries it easily, as easily as Efros carries Chagall. The paintings are airy and buoyant. At the Guggenheim SoHo, where the seven paintings that make up the ensemble are hung in...


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