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The Monsters of Notre Dame

Collection particulière © Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris.

Marc Chagall

(1887 - 1985)

Date : 1953

Marc Chagall's paintings were a constant attempt to create a link between his adoptive country of France and his real identity. Having left his native Russia to settle in Paris in 1923, Chagall often painted the capital, symbolised by its two greatest monuments, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. In this work, despite the liberties taken with the laws of perspective, we can make out behind the cathedral the outline of the buildings along the right bank of the Seine, including the Théâtre de la Ville, the Tour Saint-Jacques and the Place du Châtelet. However, the urban landscape is not the subject of the painting. In this painting, called The Monsters of Notre Dame, Chagall manages to merge the traditional image of Paris with his own fantasy through a reinterpretation of the figure of the Strix. This character, symbolic of Notre Dame and by extension the capital as a whole, sits alongside the creature which Chagall liked to include in his paintings. Although transformed into a hybrid half-woman half-goat figure, it is easily recognisable by its pose and occupies the centre of the composition, dreamily contemplating the capital, which is rendered a deep blue by the moonlight. A cockerel sings by his side, calling out to the approaching morning whose arrival is announced by a golden bird. A lovingly entwined couple floats above the two animals. The canvas portrays the moment between first light and daybreak and can be read as a tribute to the city Chagall had left a few years earlier to settle in the South of France, as well as as a metaphor for the renewal and hope that symbolised the painter's life one year after his marriage to his second wife Valentina Brodsky.


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