Музей Марка Шагала
Беларускi english deutsch francais русский

Uladzimir Dzianisau. New documents on biography of family history of Marc Chagall

Uladzimir Dzianisau
New documents on biography of family history of Marc Chagall


Despite the fact that a huge amount of publications were dedicated to the creativity of Marc Chagall, there are many gaps in studies of his biography. First of all it concerns the Vitebsk period of the artist's life and creativity. We have not much information about his ancestor either.

Julia Stepanets made a try to summarize published materials regarding the family history of Marc Chagall's parents, she introduced a number of unknown archival sources into scientific application (1).

Lately processing of the documents from the founds of various bodies of the former Vitebsk province and the city of Vitebsk kept in the National historical archives of Belarus revealed a number of interesting documents regarding the kin of M.Chagall and his life in Vitebsk. The earliest of the documents date back to 1874. It is the "Common register of male Jews residing in the 1st area of Vitebsk ", where the record №374 contains information about the artist's grandfather Segal David Ioselevich, Babinichi bourgeois, Mogiliov province, a houseowner. His age was determined "by passport" and made 50. The list also contained his sons: Hatskel' of 12 years old, Ziska of 8 and Abram of 1 year old. Besides, the age of the eldest sons was determined "by appearance" and of the youngest one - by his birth certificate (2).

Besides, Hetskel' and Ziska, sons of David Segal, were additionally included into the "List of male Jews residing in Vitebsk province, whose age is identified according to their appearance":" (3). Under the separate number the eldest son of David Segal Girsha Davidov, also bourgeois of Babinovichi, was included into the list of Vitebsk first area residents. But he was registered not Segal but Chagall by surname. His age was indicated "by passport" - 26 years old. He had a son, Mousha, of 5 years old "judging from his appearance" (4).

Those documents are evidences that Marc Chagall's ancestors moved to Vitebsk from Babinovichi located in Mogiliov province. By the way, in XIX century there were several boroughs named Babinovichi or Babinichi in Mogiliov province. According to data preserved one family named Chagall in XIX century resided in the suburbs of Babinichi, Mstislavl district, Mogiliov province, but was registered in Mstislavl' Jewish society. There are archival data that some Chagalls lived in Babinavichi of Orsha district, Babinavichi was the district center of Mogiliov province in the second half of XVIII - first half of XIX centuries but after 1840 was included into the structure of Orsha district. Nawadays this village is a part of Liozno district. Most probably Marc Chagall's ancestors came from that village. Unfortunately, now there are not many archival sources regarding the history of Mogiliov province Jewish societies and we need to make scrupulous archival researches in order to prove this hypothesis.

Property documents form a separate group. They touch upon the property in Vitebsk belonging to the father of the future artist Hatskel' Chagall. There are documents of H. Chagall's house ownership in Vitebsk in Bolshaya Pokrovskaya street in the late XIX - early XX centuries. We found more details in one of the documents dated 1904. It is "Сведения о городских недвижимых имуществах в 3-й части г. Витебска по Большой Покровской улице" (Data on city real estates in the 3rd area of Vitebsk in Bolshaya Pokrovskaya street), indicating the following: homeowner - Chagall Hatskel' Mardukhavich (Шагал Хацкель Мардухавiч) (by the way, M.Chagall's biographers believe that the artist's grandfather had the double name David-Mardukh), bourgeois.

It also contains a short description of the estate. It contained a 1-storied dwelling house of wood, 1-storied dwelling house made of stone, 1-storied dwelling house of wood in the yard and one more 1-storied dwelling house of wood. Besides, H.Chagall owned 130 square sazhens of land (5).

Unfortunately, we did not cope to find graphic materials with the scheme of the land allotment the Chagalls owned, neither draft of their houses. We know that those documents were kept in the archives of the Vitebsk city council. For example, in the "Alphabetic list of the Construction Board under the Vitebsk city council for the years 1894-1898" there are data that on the 1 of January 1897 under the record №1 the file was registered in respect of construction of a wooden house in the 3rd area of Vitebsk in Pokrovskaya street conducted by Hatskel Mardukhov Chagall and his wife Feiga Mendeleva (была зарэгiстравана справа аб пабудове драўлянага дома ў 3-й частцы г.Вiцебска па Пакроўскай вулiцы Хацкелем Мардухавым Шагалам i яго жонкай Фейгай Мендэлевай) (6). But those documents are absent in the archival funds of the Vitebsk council nowadays.

The documents regarding Marc Chagall's study in the 1st Vitebsk 4-grade city school from 1898 to 1905 are of great interest.

On 14 July 1898 H. Chagall submitted a request in the name of the Vitebsk city school supervisor where he wrote: "In connection with my intention to place my son "Movshi" into Vitebsk city school, 1st department, I am honored to humbly ask, Your Honor, your permission for my son to be admitted for entrance exams this year 1898. Attached I submit birth certificate No. 1403 and smallpox vaccination note. (Желая определить сына моего "Мовши" в Витебское Городское училище, 1-ое отделение, честь имею покорнейше просить, Ваше Высокородие, допустить сына моего к приемным испытаниям в сем 1898 году. При сем представляю свидетельства: метрическое за №1403 и об оспопрививании):" (7). The archival funds of the First Vitebsk 4-grades city school have interesting documents regarding Marc Chagall's study. For example, the List of persons intending to be accepted for study in the Vitebsk city school in 1898 ("Спiс асоб, якiя жадалi паступiць у Вiцебскае гарадское вучылiшча ў 1898 годзе") contains the record № 62 with the following information Chagall Mausha Hatskelevich, bourgeois, Jewish by faith, born on June 24, 1887 года (8). The class and grade registers for 1900-1905 contain information on study progress of M. Chagall. There are lists of pupils with information on payments for study of Marc Chagall. Also there are examination records with marks of Marc Chagall. We have coped to identify authentic handwriting of Marc Chagall, pupil of 2 class of II department, in examination work on the Russian language - an essay on the topic "Brief history of the Patriotic War of 1812", it dates back to May 7, 1902. For dictation M. Chagall got 5, and for historic essay - 4 with minus (9). Unfortunately, no school leaving certificates for the year 1905 were preserved (there are only documents for other years). Neither the personal file of Marc Chagall was preserved.

Thus we have turned one more page of the great artist's life. The above facts revealed made it possible to define more accurately some points of M.Chagall's biography and his family history. We hope that further archival researches would result in new interesting findings.

1. Stepanets Ju. From the Chagall's history: New archival documents // Marc Chagall Museum Bulletin. 2000, № 2. p.3.
2. NHAB, 1416, воп.1, file 2680, page 60.
3.  Ibidem, page 96.
4. Page, page 113 reverse side.
5. NHAB, fund 2618, воп.1, file 5, page 26.
6. NHAB, fund 2496, воп.1, file 2546, page 249.
7. NHAB, fund 2670, воп.1, file 44, page 41.
8.  Ibidem, file 24, page 4.
9.  Ibidem, file 266, page 79-81.


На главную
Сайт обновлен в 2008г. за счёт средств гранта Европейского Союза

© 2003-2008 Marc Chagall Museum
based on design by Alena Demicheva