The avant-garde painter, graphic artist and poet Marc Chagall lived in Moscow between 1920 and 1922. He was an art lecturer and also worked hard on his own paintings, many of which are on view in the Tretyakov Art Gallery on Krymsky ValRussian: Tretyakovskaya galereya na Krymskom valu or Третьяковская галерея на Крымском валу, including his well-known Introduction to the Jewish TheatreRussian: Vvedenie v Evreyskiy teatr or Введение в Еврейский театр.

Theatre in Chagall’s art

Марк Шагал «Окно на даче»Marc Chagall arrived in Moscow in 1920 at the invitation of director Aleksey Granovsky to create designs for the hall, the stage and the scenery in the Jewish Chamber TheatreRussian: Evreyskiy kamernyi teatr or Еврейский камерный театр. It was art critic Abram Efrosa Soviet Russian scholar of art, literature, and theater; translator who suggested that Chagall was the man for the job, as he admired Chagall’s talent. Marc Chagall set to work with enthusiasm, stating, “I painted Introduction to the New National TheatreRussian: Vvedenie v novyi natsionalnyi teatr or Введение в новый национальный театр for the central wall and portrayed ancestors of modern actors on other walls, the ceiling and the friezes. You will see an itinerant musician, a wedding clown, a dancing girl, a sofer and the first visionary poet in the same body and, finally, two acrobats on stage. Tables covered with tablecloths and well laden with delicious food, pies and fruit adorned the friezes.” Chagall created a fresco, a frieze and four panels depicting allegories for the theatre interiors and produced stage sets for several theatrical performances.

2072_image2_sThe theatre was located at 12, Bolshoy Chernyshevsky LaneRussian: Bolshoy Chernyshevskiy pereulok or Большой Чернышевский переулок (present-day 12, Voznesensky LaneRussian: Voznesenskiy pereulok or Вознесенский переулок) in the late modern-style building, built in 1911. It was originally intended to be N. Zakharov’s tenement houseRussian: dohodnyi dom N. Zaharova or доходный дом Н. Захарова . The steady rhythm of repeating vertical lines created by rows of windows and brick corbels shapes the building’s façade. Slightly protruding classical-style reliefs adorned the windows and spaces in between them. Unfortunately, nothing has survived of the theatre’s interiors.

Chagall’s art showed a distinct avant-garde orientation, particularly in his graphic works (MovementRussian: Dvizhenie or Движение, 1921, drawing ink). In his theatrical works, Chagall used rich symbolism which merged with Jewish traditions, personal ciphered comments on events taking place off stage, as well as a declaration of objectives central to Jewish theatre.

House with lions

2073_image3_sIn Moscow, Chagall settled in the House with LionsRussian: Dom so lvami or Дом со львами (12, Likhova LaneRussian: Lihov pereulok or Лихов переулок) at the corner of Likhova Lane and the Garden RingRussian: Sadovoe kol'tso or Садовое кольцо. He could afford only a small room, which he described as follows: “I found a little cell near the service entraince. It’s humid. Even the blankets are damp in the bed. My child breathes humidity. My paintings are getting yellow. Droplets are rolling down the walls. Am I in prison, or what?”

Shugayeva’s tenement houseRussian: Dohodnyi dom Shugaevoy or Доходный дом Шугаевой, built by Volotkin, was called “House with Lions” due to the decorative sculptures on the façade. Reminiscent of a dresser, it was built in the then-popular neo-Gothic style, with pointed arch windows, an ornate exterior décor. The effect was completed with medieval lions, knights and ladies adorning the house.


2015_image4_sIn 1921, Chagall was offered the job of an art teacher in a Jewish school and labour colony for homeless childrenRussian: evreyskaya detskaya trudovaya shkola-koloniya dlya besprizornikov or еврейская детская трудовая школа-колония для беспризорников located in MalakhovkaRussian: Малаховка (25, Pionerskaya StreetRussian: ulitsa Pionerskaya or улица Пионерская, the municipal settlement of MalakhovkaRussian: gorodskoe poselenie Malahovka or городское поселение Малаховка, Moscow OblastRussian: Moskovskaya oblast or Московская область). Today, it houses a division of school No. 48. “Barefooted and too thinly clad, they vied to outcry each other, and all I could hear was: “Comrade Chagall! Comrade Chagall!” Their eyes did not smile, though: they wanted to but could not. I liked them. They avidly took to painting! They would jump on paints just like wild animals jump on raw meat”. Chagall’s daughter Ida also attended this school at the time.

Along with the heritage of world-famous people and great museums, there are many sights in Moscow, which are not so popular, but still very remarkable. Beautiful temples in the Orthodox style, the unusual architecture of the Russian Middle Ages or the recent Soviet era, ballet and drama theaters – on our website you can learn more about Moscow attractions.


In 1973, Chagall visited Moscow once more, at the invitation of the Soviet Minister of Culture, Yekaterina Furtseva. Chagall paid a visit to the Kremlin, where he saw the Kremlin church paintings for the first time. Their beauty struck him. He came to Aram Khachaturiana Soviet Armenian composer and conductor’s SpartacusRussian: Спартак at the Bolshoi TheatreRussian: Bolshoy teatr or Большой театр and even met the composer in person. He walked around the Tretyakov Art Gallery for a long time, filled with deep admiration for Old Russian icon-painting, and met poets Sergey Mikhalkov and Andrei Voznesensky in PeredelkinoRussian: Переделкино, a country-style retreat for writers just outside Moscow.

Tretyakov art gallery on Krymsky val

Третьяковская галерея на Крымском валуThe State Tretyakov Gallery (10, Krymsky Val StreetRussian: ulitsa Krymskiy val or улица Крымский вал) houses approximately ten paintings by Chagall, including Introduction to the Jewish Theatre (1920). Reminiscent of a kaleidoscope, this panel interweaves, against an abstract geometrical background, thee human figures, which move in contradiction with tectonic principles. The characters in the panel’s right part are Chagall’s theatrical acquaintances and friends, including director Aleksey Granovsky, band director Lev Pulver, actor Solomon Mikhoels and Chagall himself in the arms of Anatoly Efros. Their figures twist in an affected manner, their legs move apart into leg splits, and they are frozen mid-stride, or perhaps even mid-dance. Painted goats, interior details, half-figures and musical instruments intertwine with these human figures, and stains of colour turn into bright musical tones which bring together the whole world’s sonority.

In addition to Introduction to the Jewish Theatre, Chagall’s other early paintings are on display in the Tretyakov Gallery, including BarbershopRussian: Parikmaherskaya or Парикмахерская (1914), ClockRussian: Chasy or Часы (1914), Over the TownRussian: Nad gorodom or Над городом (1914-1918), WeddingRussian: Venchanie or Венчание (1918) and Window at the DachaRussian: Okno na dache or Окно на даче (1915).

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