America Windows, 1977, By Marc Chagall, Art Institute of Chicago
America Windows-Panel 1
America Windows-Panel 2
America Windows-Panel 3
America Windows, 1977
By Marc Chagall
Stained glass, 96 x 385 in. (244 x 978 cm) (overall)
Signed, each pair, l.r.: “MArc ChAgAll/Reims/1977”
A gift of Marc Chagall, the City of Chicago, and the Auxiliary Board of The Art Institute of Chicago, commemorating the American Bicentennial in memory of Mayor Richard J. Daley.
About the Art
Presented as a gift to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1977, the America Windows remain an integral symbol of the city’s longstanding relationship with the arts. At eight feet high and thirty feet across, these stained glass windows are a vast arrangement of colors of the highest intensity—bright reds, oranges, yellows, and greens—placed against brilliant shades of blue. Representations of people, animals, and items such as writing implements, musical instruments, and artists’ tools float above a skyline of buildings and trees. Artist Marc Chagall began working on his design for the windows in 1976, America’s bicentennial year, and constructed the windows as a tribute to the freedom of artistic expression enjoyed by the people of the United States. When designing the windows, he stated, “When one works, one must have a vision.” For Chagall, that vision was a vibrant celebration of humankind’s creative energy.
The America Windows consist of three main sections, each divided into two panels; together, the six panels feature imagery that honors the arts and America’s independent spirit. While there are many details throughout the windows, particular items in each panel reveal distinct themes. Reading from left to right, the first panel represents music, including images of musicians with violins and horns. A faint detail in the upper left corner suggests part of a musical score with staff and notes. The second panel alludes to painting with depictions of paint brushes, a canvas, an artist’s palette, and, in the lower right corner, bottles and a bowl of food, items that could be part of a still life. In the third panel, books, a desk, an inkwell, and an extended hand holding a pen evoke the
world of literature and expression through the written word. The fourth panel shows a bird flying over a skyline containing the Statue of Liberty, reminding viewers of America’s founding principles of freedom and democracy. (The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French, celebrated America’s centennial in 1876; the America Windows were Chagall’s gift for the bicentennial.)
The final two panels bring the viewer back to the arts. In the fifth panel, depicting the theater, a curtain surrounds the top of a stage set, framing performers, one of whom is holding a mask, and a candelabrum. The sixth, and last panel represents dance, with a group of performers, some holding tambourines, hovering near a dynamic swirling form of colors and shapes that surround a solitary figure. All six panels of the America Windows, connected by a shared skyline, create a singular scene of creative and personal freedom. Despite the identification of these larger themes of creative and personal freedom, scholars are reluctant to ascribe specific meaning to many of the details in the windows, as they may have simply been personally appealing to Chagall and not particularly
symbolic of anything related to the themes of the six panels.
All of the rich details and images found in the America Windows are portrayed in Marc Chagall’s unique and highly recognizable style. While he acknowledged the influence of the many places, ideas, and people that he encountered over his long life, often sharing and borrowing methods from Cubism, Surrealism, and Fauvism, Chagall never officially aligned himself with any particular artistic movement. His extraordinary use of color, whimsical depiction of figures and animals, playful manipulation of space and scale, and personal lexicon of motifs were all his own. Among the dominant characteristics of his work, the vivid colors of Chagall’s images are often regarded as his signature. Termed a true colorist, the hues that Chagall used impacted the impression of the scene, bringing a note of brightness to even his most somber subjects. He expressed himself and claimed to dream in color, identifying most with the color blue. “I am blue,” he said, “like Rembrandt was brown.” This dictum was never so true as in the America Windows. More here.
About the Artist
Marc Chagall was born in Belarus in 1887 and developed an early interest in art. After studying painting, in 1907 he left Russia for Paris, where he lived in an artist colony on the city’s outskirts. Fusing his own personal, dreamlike imagery with hints of the fauvism and cubism popular in France at the time, Chagall created his most lasting work—including I and the Village (1911)—some of which would be featured in the Salon des Indépendants exhibitions. After returning to Vitebsk for a visit in 1914, the outbreak of WWI trapped Chagall in Russia. He returned to France in 1923 but was forced to flee the country and Nazi persecution during WWII. Finding asylum in the U.S., Chagall became involved in set and costume design before returning to France in 1948. In his later years, he experimented with new art forms and was commissioned to produce numerous large-scale works. Chagall died in St.-Paul-de-Vence in 1985.
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