Marc Chagall (French, b. Russia, 1887 – 1985) worked in virtually every medium but few are aware of his enormous importance and commitment to the art of tapestry.
Chagall’s involvement with tapestry began when he was commissioned by Israel to design an artwork for the state reception hall of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The Israelis were expecting a large mural but Chagall, ever creative and inventive, suggested a group of tapestries. Though he had never before worked with tapestries, Chagall was familiar with the Raphael weavings that Pope Leo X commissioned of Raphael for the Sistine Chapel and understood how the warmth of textiles could humanize a large space.
Chagall loved seeing his images translated by the weavers at the Gobelins, the famous French tapestry atelier created by Louis XIV to weave for Versailles. The entire process took years to complete and at its triumphant finish Chagall wanted to explore the medium further. The Gobelins, however, only wove gifts of state. Happily Madeline Malraux, the wife of the French Cultural Minister Andre Malraux was friends with a remarkable young Belgian weaver, Yvette Cauquil-Prince, who had already worked with world-class artists including Picasso.
Chagall was willing to work with Cauquil-Prince, but warily imposed a condition – if he did not like the result then the tapestry would be destroyed. Yvette agreed but had a condition of her own: if SHE didn’t like the result then it would be destroyed. Chagall had met a perfect match, not just in terms of her uncompromising professionalism and technical virtuosity but also artistically. They both loved their first collaboration, and went on to become close friends and to work together on more than thirty tapestries. Their artistic sensibilities were so much in common that he ended up calling her his spiritual daughter. So complete did she subsume her talent to his that when she brought one of her completed tapestries to Chagall for approval he declared, “This is a real Chagall. It is my hands that did all this.”
After Chagall’s death the artist’s family, who had also grown close to her, permitted Yvette to continue translating Chagall’s work into the medium of tapestry, the only person who ever was allowed to do so. Various pile Chagall carpets have also been seen in the market. There is controversy regarding market value of these rare items and buyers would be wise not to rely on a single source regarding pricing. See Buying Tapestries.