Exhibition — 21 Sep 2019 until 2 Feb 2020

Exhibition about Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian and a number of other known and lesser-known immigrants artists in Paris in the years 1900-1950. A story of otherness, of what connects us, and of finding your way in a polarised society and art world.

At the beginning of the last century, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian and other acclaimed and unknown artists move to Paris, the art capital of the world and a place where freedom flourishes, in many forms. They must learn to survive in a liberal society that is at the same time increasingly polarised, nationalistic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic. This exhibition tells the story of artists in a foreign country who, despite adverse conditions, have the courage to take art to new heights. The show is an incredible chance to see the work of the great modern masters in a new light, ánd to discover new artists.

Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian and Others: Migrant Artists in Paris presents art from the superb collection of the Stedelijk Museum, and includes work by more than 50 artists, photographers and graphic designers. What’s more, the Stedelijk’s large collection of Chagalls will be on display for the first time in nearly 70 years: 40 works of art, including eight iconic paintings, some of which have been restored especially for the exhibition.

Marc Chagall, ’Le violoniste’, 1912-13, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Marc Chagall, ’Le violoniste’, 1912-13, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
  • Kees van Dongen, ’Anna de Noailles’, 1931
    Kees van Dongen, ’Anna de Noailles’, 1931
  • Piet Mondriaan, ’Composition No. IV, with Red, Blue, and Yellow’, 1929
    Piet Mondriaan, ’Composition No. IV, with Red, Blue, and Yellow’, 1929
  • Emmy Andriesse, ’Paris’, ca.1950
    Emmy Andriesse, ’Paris’, ca.1950
  • Marc Chagall, ’Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers’, 1912-13
    Marc Chagall, ’Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers’, 1912-13

WORLD FAMOUS ARTISTS WERE MIGRANTS

Today, Chagall, Picasso and Mondrian are known as masters of modern art, but behind their role as artistic pioneers lay struggle—all three, from different backgrounds, were migrants. In spite of their success and achievement, they faced the same insurmountable obstacle: they were not French. Picasso, born in Spain, arrives in Paris penniless, where he flourishes as a creative genius. And yet he remains loyal to his Spanish roots, and often identifies with being ‘different', a sentiment he frequently explores in his work.

As a Jewish-Russian in exile, Chagall faces loneliness, exclusion and outright anti-Semitism. Often packed with Jewish-Russian imagery like rabbis and synagogues, his paintings convey a sense of deep nostalgia. In his early years, the Dutchman Kees van Dongen also encounters difficulties. He eventually became one of Paris’ celebrated society painters, but in 1906 he complained that the newspapers consistently portrayed him as the étranger, or “the foreigner”.

The art climate changes with the First World War. While before the war, despite the presence of xenophobia, the avant-garde thrives, there is a strong tendency towards tradition and classical art after the war with collectors and critics. Avant-garde artists respond to this desire, and it is during this time that Picasso creates his famous neoclassical work, and Chagall switches to the universal theme of love. But when Chagall is asked to illustrate the fables of La Fontaine, the press is outraged to see French national heritage depicted by a foreign Jew. Mondrian, on the other hand, attracted to the avant-garde before the war, stays true to his personal vision, and continues to paint abstract compositions in spite of the new trend in French taste.

Marc Chagall, ’Couple amoureux’, 1925, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Marc Chagall, ’Couple amoureux’, 1925, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Kees van Dongen, ’Maria Lani’, 1928, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Kees van Dongen, ’Maria Lani’, 1928, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

PARALLEL HISTORIES

The exhibition also highlights lesser-known stories that are directly related to migration and art. Some of the artworks depict the battle for decolonisation, a movement that erupts after 1918 when the sacrifice of the African troops, recruited to fight in the World War I, goes unrecognised. The show also explores the experiences of the black community in Paris, from the lives of the city’s many workers to electrifying personalities like the American dancer and activist Josephine Baker who, disillusioned by America, became a French citizen.

Another highlight is works of art by ground-breaking female artists, such as the Russian avant-garde artists Natalia Goncharova and Sonia Delaunay, the German Germaine Krull, who with her photo book Métal appropriates a ‘man’s subject’, to abstract artists such as Nicolaas Warb and Marlow Moss – male pseudonyms adopted by women artists.

The exhibition Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian and Others: Migrant Artists in Paris shows work of, amongst others: Emmy Andriesse, Karel Appel, Eva Besnyö, Marc Chagall, Sonia Delaunay, Kees van Dongen, Gisèle Freund, Natalia Goncharova, Wassily Kandinsky, Germaine Krull, Wifredo Lam, Jacques Lipchitz, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Piet Mondriaan, Marlow Moss, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Gino Severini, Jan Sluijters, Chaim Soutine, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Nicolaas Warb (= Sophia Warburg), and Ossip Zadkine.

Ossip Zadkine, ’Le cerf’, 1923, collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Ossip Zadkine, ’Le cerf’, 1923, collectie Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The Salon

The last stop of the exhibition is the Salon, here you can share your personal story. As you enter the Salon, you’ll find a single-question form. The questions you’re asked are personal and poetic. You’re welcome to talk about your answers with other visitors, or put down the answer for yourself in words or maybe in a drawing.

In designing the public program that complements the exhibition, the Stedelijk Museum collaborated with rapper and writer Massih Hutak. His work explores stories of hope, love and struggle. Not always upbeat, but always honest and vulnerable. The Salon is Massih’s idea, a place where people can tell their stories. Below you can see when every Salon session takes place. 

Germaine Krull, ’Métal’, 1928, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Germaine Krull, ’Métal’, 1928, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Jean Chassaing, affiche Josephine Baker, 1931, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Jean Chassaing, affiche Josephine Baker, 1931, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The exhibition Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian and Others: Migrant Artists in Paris is generously supported by the BankGiro Loterij, the Blockbusterfonds and Institut français des Pays-Bas.