|The Raven Wishing to Imitate the Eagle|
In 1937, French art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard approached Chagall about bringing La Fontaine's 17th century fables to life. Chagall seemed a natural choice since both he and La Fontaine readily mixed humans and animals in a whimsical way. For Chagall, the project provided the chance to illustrate fables with which he'd long been familiar while extending his art beyond Russian and Jewish influences. His original depictions of the fables took the form of watercolor gouaches. The gouaches were used as the basis for black and white etchings that were then printed and mass produced.
Not surprisingly, La Fontaine's fables owe a debt to Aesop. But I wasn't familiar with the stories behind some of the works in the exhibit. Take, for instance, The Raven Wishing to Imitate the Eagle. In the story, the raven is envious of the eagle's ability to capture and fly away with its prey. The raven decides to try it himself and lands on the largest sheep he can find. Of course, his efforts were to no avail. The moral of the story: Know your own limits. My own response to this work was to recall the little engine saying, "I think I can, I think I can."
|The Woodcutter and Mercury|
Jupiter sends his son Mercury, who happens to be the god of commerce, to the Woodcutter to see if he is worthy of assistance. Mercury shows the Woodcutter three axes -- one gold, one silver and one wooden -- and asks if he can identify which implement was his. Would the Woodcutter be content with the return of his modest wooden axe or be greedy and identify a more valuable tool as his own?
Happily, our Woodcutter was a honest gent. When he told Mercury the wooden axe was the one he'd lost, he was rewarded with its return. It is this moment that Chagall chose to capture in his etching rather than subsequent events when other carpenters "lose" their own axes in hope of obtaining more valuable tools. They, of course, are punished for their dishonesty and greed.
In his depiction of this fable, Chagall chose to portray an event which doesn't actually happen in the story -- the charlatan attempting to teach the donkey to speak. The instructor takes the form of a duck, a clever reference to the fact that charlatans are also known as quacks. He points his finger to the sky as he makes a particularly salient point.
Each of the 11 prints included in the exhibit made me laugh in delight. And the "collaboration" gave me a greater appreciation for Chagall's talents.
Chagall: Stories into Dreams will be on display at the Polk Museum of Art through January 6. It's a great outing with friends and family this holiday season. If you wait until after Christmas, you can also enjoy a Degas exhibit entitled Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist. And have I mentioned that admission to the Museum is free? For more information, click here.
Stay tuned for a post about the Museum's exhibit featuring the artwork of Romaine Brooks.