Chagall of the Shawangunks

SUNY-New Paltz hosts lecture on art giant’s High Falls sojourn this Tuesday

by Paul Smart
March 24, 2011 11:47 AM | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The great painter Marc Chagall spent much of his exiled time in the US on a rural farm property overlooking the Shawangunk Ridge in High Falls during the 1940s. His wife had just died while the two were in the Adirondacks, and he took up with an intern, with whom he fathered his only son. While here, he worked on a commission for the Metropolitan Opera: the sets and design for Stravinsky’s The Firebird. There are rumors that he got to know Vladimir Nabokov, another Russian émigré with ties to France and French Switzerland, during this time.

It’s a rarely discussed episode in both the artist’s life and our own region’s complicated cultural history. But this Tuesday evening, Chagall scholar Vivian Jacobson will present a short illustrated talk on the artist at SUNY-New Paltz, including a discussion on Chagall’s time in High Falls with local resident and Chagall scholar Gary Ferdman.

Among other things, Jacobson will discuss her friendship with Marc Chagall, whom she met in the mid-1970s, and her subsequent career studying and writing about his remarkable life and work. She and Ferdman will pinpoint the houses and studios that he worked in and owned, as well as his relationship with Virginia Haggard, his assistant, companion and son’s mother.

The event will be preceded by a closed midday talk by Jacobson for members of the Woodstock Artists’ Association and Museum.

Chagall, who gained fame as part of the Modernist movement arising in France in the early 20th century and was briefly associated with the early roots of Surrealism, became known as “the quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century,” according to the art historian Robert Hughes. He was also renowned for working his art through myriad media, from paper to stained glass and massive murals (still gracing the Met at Lincoln Center). His years in America were punctuated by his feelings of exile, realization of the effects of World War II, during which his home village in Russia was completely destroyed, and the death of his wife and partner of three decades, Bella, from a viral infection.

After a period of mourning, Chagall and Haggard settled into an Ulster County home the better to concentrate on his work – grown dark in the years following the war’s end, with the time’s discovery of the depths of the Holocaust, with which he associated his own Bella’s passing. They had a child together, David McNeil, born in the county on June 22, 1946, and then stayed together for seven years, returning to the south of France.

“I lived here in America during the inhuman war in which humanity deserted itself... I have seen the rhythm of life. I have seen America fighting with Allies...the wealth that she has distributed to bring relief to the people who had to suffer the consequences of the war,” Chagall later wrote after his return to Europe. “I like America and the Americans...people there are frank. It is a young country with the qualities and faults of youth. It is a delight to love people like that...”

The Chagall lecture takes place this Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. in Lecture Center 102 on the SUNY-New Paltz campus. Parking on campus is free after 6:30 p.m. For further information call (845) 257-3245 or visit

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