Seeing paintings by Marc Chagall sends me over the moon. It’s love at first sight when, at 20, I see his work for the first time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The childlike simplicity, the bright color, and whimsy draw me into his world.
The love affair picks up steam in Chicago a few years later when I view his spectacular stained glass windows at the Art Institute. Chagall’s liquid blue windows linger in my imagination through decades of diversions from this affair of the heart.
Then, in the middle of my life, I’m lucky enough to visit the Chagall Museum in the south of France.
On a winter afternoon in the seaside city of Nice, I turn my back on the Bay of Angels. Past the train station, I walk uphill along the Boulevard de Cimiez to the Chagall Museum to see paintings and stained glass by an artist whose work touches my soul.
The museum can be reached via Bus #15 for a single euro, or by one of Nice’s ubiquitous taxis, but I prefer a light hike in the French Riviera sunshine.
The sleek, gray, box-shaped buildings are midway to the top of the Cimiez hill. A silver sign near the street tells me I have reached my destination. I follow the sidewalk across the lawn. The place seems oddly quiet for a site dedicated to one of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists. Will it be open or closed after I’ve come all this way? My fears fall away when other visitors step out of the museum and gift shop.
Feelings of relief wash over me. This is it! All the planning and travel time is over. I’m here! I purchase a ticket for 8.5 euros and trace the clerk’s gesture to the glass doors. I open my eyes and heart to the experience.
For the briefest moment I pause in the gift shop before the exhibit area. I rapidly survey the array of prints, books, DVDs, cards, bookmarks and other small items designed with Chagall images. Though they are beautiful, the many reproductions will have to wait because I am about to enjoy original Chagalls — paintings, glass art, drawings and tapestries.
I am about to enter what I consider a sacred site, an inner temple.
I advance through two sets of double glass doors to find the actual paintings I came to see. Turning right after the ticket taker, I enter two adjoining oval exhibit spaces and become immersed in Chagall’s deep, radiant colors.
Rich greens, purples and reds and rays of yellow color the larger-than-life series based on images from the Old Testament. Titles include “The Creation,” “Abraham and the Three Angels,” “The Sacrifice of Isaac.” Chagall fills the corners with brides, angels and roosters that appear as if they’re floating above the scenes. Flights of fancy.
The palette changes to raspberry, rose and other shades of red in a room that displays the five paintings in the “Song of Solomon” series, a celebration of romantic love. Chagall’s two great loves were his adored first wife Bella and the second, Valentina, with whom he lived at the end of his life.
The artist unabashedly portrays love, entwined human forms painted with broad, sweeping strokes. The audacity of the colors and energy astonishes me.
I traverse the long hallway adorned with other paintings; I peer into the semi-darkened auditorium. Floor-to-ceiling blue-stained glass windows make me gasp. The stained glass windows on the opposite side of the auditorium are similar to their sisters at the Chicago Art Institute.
As if on cue, a jazz pianist on the stage plays a few bold notes on the grand piano. A jazz ensemble rehearses for an evening performance, fulfilling Chagall’s vision that his museum would bring together music and painting. I watch the play of light shining through glass before returning for one more stroll through the display of canvasses.
Chagall’s art is a gift. So playful. Such happiness! Love of life saturates his art.
I leave the Chagall Museum, face the dazzling sunshine of the Cote d’Azur, and follow my wandering spirit downhill to the sea.
Kristine Mietzner organizes writing workshops and leads writing groups when she’s not out walking her golden retriever Max. Her novel “Matisse in Winter” was a finalist in the category of adult ficiton in the 2013 San Francisco Writer’s Conference writing contest. “The Tideline” appears monthly in The Benicia Herald. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.