Музей Марка Шагала
Беларускi english deutsch francais русский

Liudmila Khmelnitskaya. Vitebsk circle of Marc Chagall


Liudmila Khmelnitskaya.

Vitebsk circle of Marc Chagall

(Viktor Mekler, Thea Brakhman, Oskar Meshchaninov,

Ossip Zadkine, Mikhail Libakov, Ruvim Mazel) (1)



In Marc Chagall's biography one can read only between the lines about the young men and women who circled around Marc Chagall during his living in Vitebsk before his first departure for Paris. On the other hand, there are many articles about some of them. In his autobiographical "Mon vie" the artist himself distinguished only some characters from his circle  - Viktor Mekler, Thea Brakhman, who introduced him to Bella Rosenfeld, also he wrote about his short-term and unloved work in the atelier of Vitebsk photographer Meshchaninov, the brother of the famous sculptor Oskar Meshchaninov. We have learnt from the archival documents regarding Chagall's study at the Vitebsk city specialized school that the future sculptor Oskar Meshchaninov was Chagall's class -mate for several years. Ieguda Pen was a kind of connecting link between the above mentioned young men as they attended his arts school virtually simultaneously. In the National historical archives of Belarus we have coped to find the documents that give new information about the families of the above mentioned characters and together with the other sources of information allow a wider consideration of their biographies as well as the environment where "at the dawn of his obscure youth" Marc Chagall lived.

Despite his world-wide fame and glory, and his destine which was uncommonly happy for an immigrant, Chagall did not have sentimental friendly feelings towards his countrymen Ossip Zadkine and Oskar Meshchaninov. Avigdor ( Viktor in the Russian transcription) Mekler became his first soul-mate in Vitebsk. As it turned out later he had no distinct talent and did not cope to make an artist despite all efforts. Avigdor descended from a big and wealthy merchant family. His grandfather Izroel Gertsykov Mekler (1834-1907) made his way from petty bourgeoisie to the 2nd guild merchant by 1880thies and passed his business over to his sons and grandchildren. He had one daughter and five sons and only one of them - Itska Izroelev - was expelled from the merchants circle for the reason that he "completed the full course of sciences of the Riga polytechnic institute". Another uncle of Avigdor - Mendel - lived in the town of Fridrihkstadt (modern Yaunelgava in Latvia) (2). The other uncles and father of Avigdor settled in Vitebsk.

Shmerka Izroelev Mekler, Avigdor's father, born in 1864 (3) first was listed in the merchant family of his father and in 1893 became an independent merchant of the 2nd guild. He was the one in the big Meklers clan who had the most numerous family - four daughters and six sons. Avigdor was the eldest son, he was born on the 25th of November (Old Style) 1888 and was 1 year and a half younger than Chagall. He was named after his grandfather on mother's side. Shmerka Mekler and his wife Genia-Elka had kids every 1 - 2 years. Two of them - the youngest daughter Hanna (born in 1893) and the second son Iosif (born in 1893) - were adopted by the family of Glubokoye petty bourgeois Rafal Shliomov Zingel and his wife Sora who lived in the Vilno province. (4)

After the traditional for a Jewish boy education in heder in 1900 Avigdor Mekler entered the 1st department of the 2nd class at the Vitebsk city 4-class specialized school. Movsha Chagall and Iosel Zadkine studied in the same class with him. Mekler manifested much better results at the studied subjects than constant satisfactory marks student Zadkine and Chagall who received satisfactory and unsatisfactory marks. He had steady fives (excellent marks) at the Russian language, fours (good marks) at arithmetic, natural science, calligraphy, sketching and drawing and threes (satisfactory marks) only at geometry, history and geography. (5)

In the beginning of June, 1901 Avigdor Mekler, Iosel Zadkine and Movsha Chagall were moved up to the 2nd department of the 2nd class according to the exams' results. (6) However he did not complete the second year of study at the specialized school. As Chagall used to recall later, he was transferred to "a more respectable institution" - commercial specialized school. But very soon "he was offered to get out of there because of his outstanding results". (7)

Chagall's statement that Mekler studied at the commercial specialized school in Vitebsk raises doubts. Seven-class Vitebsk commercial specialized school of V. Grekov established by the Vitebsk Savings and Loan Partnership and Salesmen Society was opened five years after the period Chagall was narrating about - only in autumn of 1906. There are enough documents of the commercial specialized school preserved in the National historical archives of Belarus that allow to state that Avigdor Mekler never studied there. In 1907 - 1910 Rakhmiel Mekler, probably Avigdor's namesake or one of his relatives, attended the commercial specialized school. (8) In 1906 Moisey Kunin, future Chagall's student at the Vitebsk people's arts specialized school and head of his artistic workshop, entered the school. In 1913 - 1915 the artist Efim Minin studied there. (9)

In 1902 according to the direction of the Vitebsk Governmental Chamber Avigdor Mekler was ranked among his father's merchant family. (10) The business of Shmerka Mekler was very successful at the time - in 1900 he became a merchant of the 2nd Vitebsk guild and in 1905 he was promoted to a merchant of the 1st Smolensk guild. (11) Shmerka Mekler hoped that his eldest son would make a worthy successor of his business. He himself had "a production of copy-books, a storage house for paper and stationery supplies, tobacco, and kerosene" in Shaseynaya street in Vitebsk as well as "a factory of burning oil and drying oil". (12) Besides commercial activity he had active social life - he was a member of the Vitebsk committee of the Jewish colonization society, a member of informational bureau for immigrants, an assistant to the head of the society for poor disabled Hebrews. (13) According to Vitebsk address book for 1913 he resided in the 3rd district of the town in the house of Lifshits in Verkhne-Petrovskaya street. In the archival documents there are records about Shmerka Mekler ownership property in Vitebsk - a wooden house and two outhouses (one of which was made of stone, had two floors and a storehouse on the ground floor) in General'naya street and a wooden house and a kerosene cistern on 900 sajenes of his own land in Kerosinovyj lane (all in the 3rd district). (14) Also Shmerka Mekler owned two wooden houses in Bolshaya Pokrovskaya street. (15)

However outlooks for becoming a successful merchant and a family tradition successor did not appeal to Avigdor himself. He was more interested in the poetry of symbolists which was very popular at that time, attended Ieguda Pen's school of drawing and painting. In Pen's school he got acquainted with Movsha Chagall.

As Chagall used to recall, during his study at the city specialized school Avigdor used to look at him from the height of his social status "as at an antediluvian wonder". "Light-skinned, dark-haired, he was as far from me as his family was far from mine" - wrote the artist in his "Mon vie". (16) However Avigdor was among the first at Pen's school who anticipated Chagall's unique talent and started to seek his friendship and even offered to have drawing lessons with him. Chagall refused to receive money for lessons but agreed to be friends. "Friends from the upper society flattered my self-esteem: I was no longer a ragamuffin from Pokrovskaya street!" - he wrote. (17)

The young people became friends and spent much time together. Chagall used to give long visits to Avigdor in their summer cottage. "We used to ramble through the fields and meadows" - recalled he later. Their friendship grew into sincere mutual affection that enriched both of them.

In autumn 1906 Avigdor who had had some travel experience told Movsha that he was going to continue studying arts and invited Movsha to join him. It was not easy for Chagall to dare to make such step - he realized that his family did not have enough money to support him during study years and it was high time for him to start earning on his own. By that time his parents apprenticed him to the Vitebsk photographer A.S. Meshchaninov. Chagall started to study retouching and was supposed to acquire enough professional skills during a year of unpaid work. Chagall was completing the second month of work but he felt no joy: "I hated retouching. The stupidest work! What is it for: to conceal freckles and wrinkles and make everybody alike, young and not resembling themselves?" (18)

Finally he made his choice: in winter 1906 - 1907 Chagall together with Avigfor Mekler went to Saint-Petersburg to study. As Movsha believed, he was leaving home forever in order to become an artist.

His failure to enter the technical drawing school of baron Shtiglits, studying at the school under the Society for arts inducement in Nikholai Rerikh's class, asperity that Chagall had to overcome in Saint-Petersburg - all those episodes in the artist's life are well known. Avigdor Mekler, who had also entered Rerikh's school and regularly received monetary allowance from his father, made Chagall's life in Saint-Petersburg easier. The friends spent money on sketch-books, paints and food very quickly and lived in misery together. Once the friends were photographed in the atelier "Leon & Co." in Nevski avenue - shoulder to shoulder both in alike calamanco (19) Russian shirts with clasps on the left and alike dark jackets.

Even small weaknesses of Avigdor could not darken friendship of the young people: he envied the artistic talent of his friend and used to steal his class sketches, erased signatures and presented as his own works at the school under the Society for arts inducement. "I did not take offence - wrote Chagall. - But anyway he was sent down." (20) Afterwards Movsha remained in Saint-Petersburg, and Avigdor left soon for Paris with the purpose to continue his artistic education.

It is very difficult to trace Avigdor's further biography. His life and study in Paris did not have critical importance for his future life and artistic carrier. Shmerka Mekler still hoped to put his son on the right path and interest him in merchant's business - Avigdor was listed in "the merchants' register of Vitebsk" for 1912 among his father and uncles. (21) But this story had no continuance - later on the name of Avigdor was not mentioned in the lists of merchants.

His artistic carrier was neither successful. After the Revolution Viktor lived in Vitebsk, took part in the artistic and social life of the town. In 1918 - 1920 he worked as "shkrab" (short for school teacher) - taught drawing and sketching in Vitebsk schools, namely worked as a teacher at the primary school №43. From February to November 1919 Mekler filled the modest position of an instructor in the out-of-school subdivision of the provincial department of peoples' education. (22) In the same year he participated in the 2nd exhibition of the Smolensk artists' society (23), and in 1920 - 1921 he lived and worked as a teacher in Smolensk for a short period. (24) In the archival documents for the year 1922 he was ranked as a "shkrab" again. (25)

Unfortunately none of Mekler's works were preserved. According to the recollections of his contemporaries, Chagall's close youth friend worked in "museum" style close to Pen's, exhibited portraits of townsmen and everyday scenes. Recalling their old friendship Chagall wrote with bitterness on the pages of "Mon vie": "The first childhood friend, who I loved so much, left me, withered and fell off like scab from a wound.

And why?

At the school under the Society for arts inducement he used to steal my class sketches, erased signatures and presented as his own works.

‹...› Later, in Paris, he intended to snatch away my fiancée, tempting her with sham declarations of love.

And finally having seen my mature paintings he did not understand anything and started to envy me like the others.

Thus our childhood friendship went into pieces at the beginning of tough grown-up life." (26)

According to A.Shatskikh, at the beginning of the 1920ieth Viktor Mekler joined the High artistic and technical workshop in Moscow (VHUTEMAS), but later returned to Vitebsk. (27) According to A.Lisov, in 1930 - 1934 he worked in Moscow in the dairy institute, afterwards he returned to Vitebsk and during one year and a half till November 1935 worked as a teacher at the Vitebsk arts specialized school, which had been reorganized from People's artistic specialized school established by Chagall, and in other schools of Vitebsk. (28)

The name of "Viktor Sergeevich Mekler" was mentioned among the participants of several exhibitions of the late 1930ieth: in 1935 he took part in "Exhibition of works by artists of Byelorussia", which took place in Moscow in the exhibition hall of "Vsekohudozhnik" and "Exhibition of sketch works for VI All-Byelorussian exhibition" in Minsk; in 1936 - in "Autumn exhibition of artists of BSSR" in Minsk. (29) The traces of his biography disappear somewhere in the late 1930ieth. The National Art Museum in Minsk keeps his pictorial portrait by Ieguda Pen in 1906.


Through Avigdor Mekler Chagall got acquainted with Thea Brakhman during his living in Vitebsk that later crucially changed his life. In the beginning of the 1900ieth Thea studied at the Vitebsk private seven-class specialized school of Raisa Milinarskaya. In 1905 together with her school friend Bella Rosenfeld she entered the 6th class of Alekseevskaya female grammar school that had been just opened in Vitebsk under the ministry of people's education. (30)

Thea - Touba (Tayba) Vulfovna Brakhman - was born on January 29 (Old Style) 1998 in the family of "Gol'dingen petty bourgeois Vulf Borukhanovich Brakhman" (Gol'dingen is the town of Kuldiga in Latvia now). (31) Thea's father was a medical assistant with his own practice, his wife worked as a costumier in the theater. Besides Thea they had three sons. The Brakhmans' house was located in Gryaznaya street in the 3rd town district, artistic atmosphere reigned there: quite often they made musical evenings, hosted young people and staged various scenes from plays. At first Thea's mother, who invited theater actors, musicians, local and visiting celebrities, was the center of all events. "Near-by houses fallen into silence were listening to the sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven. A passer-by would pause for a minute by the windows and continue his walk completely charmed", - wrote in her book "Ablaze lights" Bella Rosenfeld who had been a constant participant of such evenings. (32)

The children inherited love for music. All the three sons of the Brakhmans played music, either the violin or the piano. Thea also played the piano well. From her early youth the girl took a great interest in the silver age poetry, Ibsen's plays, Hauptmann's works. (33) She even changed her name for Thea, trying to impersonate the character of the Ibsen's play "Hedda Gabler" (later she named her daughter Hilda - that was the name of one of the characters of the Ibsen's play "The Master Builder" ("bygmester Solness").

Acquaintance with the smart and educated girl overturned Chagall's life as he confessed. Thanks to her already in Vitebsk he entered the circle of young intellectuals keen on arts and poetry. At that time Oskar Meshchaninov used to be at Thea Brakhman's. Chagall could have met him at Pen's school. His sisters attended Alekseevskaya grammar school: Fejga-Rasia Meshchaninova studied in the same class as Thea and Bella, Marjasia was one year older.

Oskar Meshchaninov was born in Vitebsk and received his primary artistic education at Ieguda Pen's school. In 1905 - 1906 he studied at Odessa arts college and in 1907 we went to Paris and settled in "La Ruche". Officially 1886 is considered his birth year, but in the National archives of Belarus we have found the Meshchaninovs' family register and papers on the future sculptor's conscription for military service in the royal army that allows us to introduce some clarity.

Iosel' Shmujlovich (Oskar Samojlovich) Meshchaninov was born in Vitebsk on April 9 (21) not 1886, but 1884. (34) His father Shmujla Judov Meshchaninov was a merchant of the 2nd guild though his grandfather belonged to petty bourgeoisie. The family Iosel' was born in was very big. The future sculptor had six sisters and six brothers, Iosel' was the youngest. (35) One of his elder brothers owned a photo atelier, which was located in the house of Ritevski in Vokzal'naya street in the 3rd district of Vitebsk where Chagall worked as a retoucher for two months.

In June 1903 the Vitebsk merchant's son Iosel' Meshchaninov was issued a certificate of registration to the recruiting center - he was supposed to be recruited soon. But Meshchaninov did not happen to serve in the royal army - by resolution of the draft commission he was announced disabled "for troops and forces" and was fully exempted from military service on November 10, 1905. (36)

We have no doubts that these records refer to the future famous sculptor as in the recruitment list he was mentioned as "a student of the arts college under Odessa society of fine arts" with indication of his residence address: the town of Odessa, Kherson province, Ol'gievskaya street, b. 27. (37)

Oscar Meshchaninov's departure for Paris in 1907 stopped the contacts with his Vitebsk friends. Till 1911 he studied at the National school of decorative arts and National school of fine arts in A.Mercier's class, later - in the studio of Josef Bernard , who critics inscribed in the four of sculptors "who inherit Rodin's glory". Meshchaninov devoted himself to copying antique, orient and gothic sculptors in the museums of Paris and Rome, made half-length portraits and torsos of marble, granite and concrete. In 1910 - 1920 his works were exhibited in Paris salons: National society of fine arts (1908 - 1911; member of the society since 1908), Association of French artists, Salon d'automne (Salon's member since 1912), le Salon des Indépendants and Tuileries Salon. His works were also exhibited in Russia where Thea Brakhman, Bella Rosenfeld and Marc Chagall could see them. Meshchaninov participated in the exhibitions "World of art" (Petrograd, 1915 and 1916), Exhibition of paintings and sculptors by Jewish artists (Petrograd, 1916), "1915" (Moscow, 1915), the 1st state free exhibitions of artworks (Petrograd, 1919) (Marc Chagall participated in the two last of them). In 1915 Apollo magazine (Saint-Petersburg) which was very popular among intellectuals published the big article "Meshchaninov's sculpture" by Jakob Tugengold (№6/7, p. 36-40).

In the 1910ieth Oskar Meshchaninov played a significant role in the life of the Russian artistic colony in Paris. With his assistance his teacher Josef Bernard who had not professed anywhere agreed to consult attendees of sculpture class at the Russian Academy. (38) Chagall's relations with the Russian Academy in Paris are still to be traced but we have nearly no doubt in their existence.

In 1919 Meshchaninov visited Burma, Siam and Cambodia with the purpose to survey the ancient town of Angkor and study the Khmer sculpture. In 1927 he went to India where he surveyed rock temples of Ellora. In 1928 he exhibited several sculptures including "Man in top hat" and "Girl with flowers" in the Russian part of the exhibition "Modern French Art" in Moscow, where Chagall also exhibited his works for "Dead Souls" by Gogol. The Russian Museum bought the first of the above mentioned works by Meshchaninov, and the second one was donated by the author to the Tretiakov's Gallery. In connection with the exhibition the artist visited Moscow and Leningrad. "Among the Russian sculptors entirely merged with the French culture the name of Oscar Meshchaninov is one of the brightest - wrote the critic A. Nurenbegh. - subtle, purely French style, pungent sense of rhythm and plasticity, huge knowledge of sculpture craft (modern and museum) are identifying features of his creativity." (39)

During World War II Meshchaninov moved to USA and received American citizenship. He died in 1956 in Los Angeles. Nowadays his works are exhibited in the museums of Paris, New-York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Jerusalem, and Amsterdam.


But let's get back to the Vitebsk salon of Thea Brakhman where young people spent evenings playing music and talking about arts hardly thinking about their future grandiose or dramatic lives. In her house Chagall met his future wife Bella Rosenfeld in the autumn of 1909. It happened when having finished school in Vitebsk Thea was studying at the course of Bestuzhev in Saint Petersburg and her friend Bella was studying at the high courses of V.I. Gerier for women in Moscow. Bella had just returned from Germany where she was on holiday with her mother and came to her friend to share her experiences with. Bella and Marc later described this significant meeting in details in their autobiographical books.

Having finished specialized school with a silver medal in 1905 Bella went to Saint Petersburg where March Chagall and Avigdor Mekler had moved in the previous winter. Thea was a rather modern girl. According to Franz Meyer she used to sit to Chagall having overcome interdictions of the bourgeois society "in the name of arts". (40)

Having finished the courses Thea went back to Vitebsk. In the state archives of Vitebsk region there are a lot of documents regarding her activities in the first years after the Revolution. She vigorously entered into the social life of Vitebsk. She gave lectures at the proletarian university which had been opened in the city at the end of 1918, worked as a study group head and executed secretarial duties. Later she joined the Vitebsk province educational department where she worked as an instructor of the out-of-school subdivision and an instructor of the museum construction subdivision. At the same time Thea gave lectures in the Russian language, literature and folklore in evening schools for grown-ups, in music schools and study groups. (41)

In these years Vitebsk was beginning active museum construction, and from October 1919 to December 1920 as an instructor of the museum department under the arts subdivision Thea Brakhman fulfilled "works on inventory and classification of collections of Artistic and Archaeological Provincial Museum and Fedorovich Museum". (42)

In January 1920 the provincial commission for protection of antique and artistic monuments was created in Vitebsk. Aleksander Romm headed it. Thea Brakhman was invited to become a secretary of the Commission. (43) Besides clerical work she was also engaged in decision-making.

Active and varied social activities the young woman had in Vitebsk ended at the end of December 1920 when she went to Moscow "at the disposal of the People's committee of education". (44) At the same time Bella and Marc Chagalls moved to Moscow as well. After their moving abroad the Chagalls did not keep in touch with Thea.

Further destiny of Thea Brakhman was unknown for a long time until recently Arkadij Shulman, journalist, found her niece living in Moscow. Selma Rubenovna Brakhman lifted the veil of secrecy. Quotation from the letter of Selma Brakhman: "By the age of thirty the crowd of her admirers scattered. There was one who outstayed the others and she married him. He was a man of the different circle, Grigorij Zakharovich Gurevich was a modest bank worker before the Revolution. In the times of NEP he became a business man. He owned a big apartment in Karavannaya street (in Leningrad - L. Khmelnitskaya) that was later occupied by different lodgers including the family of Thea's elder brother Boris. So Thea and her daughter Gil'da had two neighboring rooms to live in. Grigoij Zakharovich was constantly on business trips, sent his wife expensive inlaid redwood furniture and virtu, but she often had no money even for bread." (45) In 1941 Thea together with her ill daughter (tuberculosis of peritoneum) was evacuated to Tiumen'. After the blockade was raised the family returned to Leningrad and received a room in the communal flat in the Petrogradski district. Thea professed in the fire brigade department, her husband was ill and died soon. Gil'da with difficulty found the job of a laboratory assistant in a hospital. The family lived in poverty but Thea did not complain. After her mother's death Gil'da restrained herself with fortitude and lived alone. After she died their communal flat neighbors took the remnants of the Brakhmans' meager belongings. (46) That was the sad finish of the life that had started so beautifully.


Ossip Zadkine's life was totally different. He did not become a member of the group circling around the house of Thea Brakhman, he had his own circle of communication.

It is commonly accepted that Ossip Aleksandrovich (Iosel' Aronovich)  Zadkine was born on July 14, 1890. But the archival documents of the Vitebsk town four-class specialized school indicates a different date - January 28 (Old Style) 1888. (47) The future sculptor was born in Smolensk and spent his childhood in Vitebsk. His father Aron Zadkine taught humanity in Smolensk seminary. His mother Sofia, nee Lester, descended from the family of Scottish shipbuilders who settled in Russia in the times of Peter I. Her brothers were faithful to the ancestral craft and were occupied in production and sale of timber. Besides Iosel' the family had two more kids.

In 1900 - 1904 Iosel' Zadkine as mentioned above studied at Vitebsk town four-class specialized school, in 1900 - 1902 in the same class with Movsha Chagall, in 1900 - 1901 with Avigdor Mekler. In comparison to his friends Zadkine was remarkable for his bigger physical activity. Once he was reprimanded by the teachers council "for fidgety behavior during intermissions" and his behavior mark was decreased. (48)

Mostly kids of "city estates" studied at the town specialized school, they made about 65%. Tuition fee was rather small and made 8 roubles per annum (for example, fee at gymnasium was about 65 roubles). It was possible to learn crafts in the specialized craftsmen class for additional fee of 1 rouble per annum. Mostly kids from poor families used this opportunity as they had to bother about their future profession. Neither Movsha Chagall nor Avigdor Mekler used this possibility. Only Ossip Zadkine learnt timbering and lathe work (lessons in the craftsmen class were hold three times a week). Possibly this is where the boy got his love for timbering that proved so useful to him later.

In June 1904 Zadkine completed his study at school what was certified with the certificate № 400 "Bearer Iosel' Tsdadkin finished the course of study at Vitebsk town four-class specialized school in 1904, during his study at the above mentioned educational establishment from 1900-1901 to 1903-1904 he studied timbering and lathe work in the craftsmen class and showed satisfactory results on the subject". (49)

At the same time with Chagall Zadkine took drawing lessons at Ieguda Pen's school. However the two future stars of world arts had no specific intimacy and friendship. There is an evidence of that fact. It is the letter Chagall sent from St-Paul-de-Vence to Smolensk in reply to the enquiry of Serghey Malakhievich Jakovlev, the local specialist of local lore, who was collecting data about Zadkine for his book about outstanding natives of Smolensk. "I knew Zadkine as a pupil of the town specialized school as I was his class-mate, - wrote Chagall. - Twice at his instance I visited his place where he lived together with his parents not far from my street. He wanted to show me his works." (50)

In 1905 by his father's decision Iosel' was sent to England to his mother's cousin John Lester. The young man lived in Sunderland, studied at the boarding school, and went to the arts school in the evening. In a year he went to London without permission and got fixed up in a job in a timbering workshop. In 1907 he studied at the evening courses in the Polytechnic school, in 1909 he studied wood engraving at the school of arts and crafts. He spent summer months in Vitebsk.

In 1909 Chagall also spent summer in Vitebsk and Liozno. The young men exchanged visits. In his memoirs Zadkine wrote about his visit to the house of his former class-mate: "Chagall lived at his mother's, who ran a grocery shop not far from the train station. His room was full of paintings resembling signboards of tailors, hairdressers or tobacco shops. But there was something in their primitivity and rusticity that did surprise and made you smile." (51)

In autumn 1909 Zadkine was going to Paris to meet the director of the National school of fine arts for who he had a letter of commendation from the count Davydov. Avigdor Mekler met him at the Northern train station and helped him to get to a hotel in the Latin district. (52) This is how his new biography started. Marc Chagall came back to Petersburg and went to another school organized by Elizaveta Zvantseva where Lev Bakst and Mstislav Dobuzhinski professed.

In Paris Zadkine started to take lessons from J.-A. Enjalber but got disappointed in the academic methods of teaching and discontinued lessons. In summer 1910 he went to his relatives in Vitebsk again. The painter Mikhail Libakov, Chagall's mate in Pen's school, introduced him to the family of Rubenstein whose house gathered creative youth. There used to come the musicologist G. Shneyerson, violin players B. and G. Weltmmans,  artists Solomon Judovin, Mikhail Libakova and others. Same summer Zadkine made a sculptural portrait of the mistress of the house Maria Fiodorovna Rubenstein who was a dentist (at the moment the portrait is kept in the collection of the State Museum of Fine Arts named after A.S. Pushkin). She was born in Kaunas in 1872, finished gymnasium and entered the department of dentistry at the Warsaw University, later she worked as a dentist in Vitebsk. In her spare time Maria Fiodorovna played music and was a rather good piano player. She was an outstanding woman, deep and emotional person, soul of the house and parties where young creative people gathered. (53)

As S.D. Romanovich asserted, in the same summer of 1910 in the garden of Rubinstein Zadkine made a portrait of the artist Mikhail Vadimovich Libakov (1899-1953) in the same manner as the bust of M.F. Rubenstein. (54) (The bust was not preserved as it was destroyed in the years of the Civil War). Chagall knew Libakov. During his study at Pen's school he went to make sketches together with Libakov and Ruvim Mazel. Mazel'recalled these times: "We (Mazel'amd Libakov - L. Khmelnitskaya) used to wander around the town streets carrying our sketch-books and draw miserable huts of the Jewish and when Chagall started to go to Pen's school the three of us together made sketches of Vitebsk streets." (55)

Mikhail (real name - Moisey) Libakov was born on September 11 (Old Style) 1889. He was the youngest of the five sons of Mordukh Leibov Libakov, Vitebsk merchant of the 1st guild. Four of them (including Moisey) adopted Christianity (three of them adopted orthodox belief and one adopted evangelical Lutheranism). On July 31, 1911 at the age of 22 as it is indicated in one of the family registers of Vitebsk Jews the Vitebsk petty bourgeois Moisey Libakov was "enlightened with Holy Christening and given name Mikhail". (56) Later he became a scenic artist and actor, he achieved maximal fame during his work in Moscow in the 1st and 2nd studios of the Arts Theater. Setting for the performance based on "the Cricket on the Hearth" by Dickens (1913 - 1914) Libakov gained respect and liking of Konstantin Stanislavski, Leopold Sulerzhitski and Aleksandre Benois. Work on the plays "Hamlet" (1924) and "Petersburg" (1925) according to the novel by Andrey Belyj brought special glory to him.

Ruvim Mazel'(1890 - 1967) sat under Pen first; in 1907 - 1908 he studied in Saint Petersburg at the school under the Society for arts inducement. In 1909 for the absence of residence permit he had to abort his education and spend about a year in Vitebsk. There together with Libakov and Zadkine he opened a studio for work from nature, where only the local imbecile Lejbka agreed to sit. He socialized with Lisitski and Judovin, who was drawing biblical scenes on big sheets at that time. In 1910 Mazel went to Munich to study. (57) In June 1914 in connection with the beginning of the war he returned to Vitebsk and soon settled in Moscow. At the end of 1914 an exhibition of the artists of the 1st studio of MHT of Libakov and Uzunov where Mazel'exhibited his Munich works. Aleksandre Benois liked his prints and sketches from nature, he bought one of the sheets and predicted his successful future as a graphic artist. (58) At the beginning of the 1920ieth in Ashkhabad he opened an arts school, which was soon named "Leading arts school of the Orient" and was very close to Chagall's Vitebsk People's specialized school of arts in its aims and purposes.

Despite similarity of their lives at the beginning - studying under Pen almost at the same time, departure for Petersburg almost the same year and studying at the same school there, and further departure for Europe almost at the same time - nevertheless they went apart further and further. According to Nazel, Chagall, who was three years older, gradually stopped communicating with him and "got so much further on his way to success that he left all his countrymen far behind". (59)

Getting back to Ossip Zadkine, I can note that in autumn 1910 he left Vitebsk and got back to Paris where he rented a studio in La Ruche. In 1911 Zadkine exhibited his sculptures for the first time at Salon d'automne and le Salon des Indépendants. Later he took part in the 1st exhibition of Association of artists and actors in Petersburg (1912), Neu Sezession in Berlin (1914), avant-garde exhibition "Allied Artists Association" in London (1914). In 1910 - 1914 he was a constant goer to baroness Elena Ettinger's artistic and literal salon, Maria Vasilieva's Academy, café La Rotinde. He got acquainted with G. Apollinaire, B. Cendrars, P. Picasso, M. Jacob, A. Modigliani, C. Brancusi, R. and S. Delaunay, A.Arkhipenko, J. Lipschitz, I. Ehrenburg -  all those artistic workers Chagall made friends with.

The artist Marevna (pseudonym Maria Vorobiova-Stebelskaya), who from autumn 1912 studied at the Russian Academy in Paris made memory notes about evening classes of drawing (croques), which many artists including Zadkine attended: "In youth Soutine and his friends spent many evenings in the Russian Academy in Avenue du Maine behind Montparnasse station where there were two workshops - sculpture and artistic ones. Young immigrants from Kiev, Vitebsk, Minsk, Riga and Odessa met there, there were also students from Finland and Estonia, and people from Moscow and Saint Petersburg for a while. ‹...› In the morning at the Academy there were lessons of painting and sculpture, and in the evening all students gathered for drawing lessons. Modigliani and other non-Russian artists were present at those crowded meetings. In the farthest corner by the fire place a naked model was sitting and we were drawing in a very free manner - whatever we wanted and however we wanted. ‹...›

In winter evenings after drawing lessons we used to heat samovar and drink tea. The young people were a nice scene - redden with the heat of the fire place and hot tea talking peacefully. However, not very peaceful - as quite often through quiet conversation came bursts of the voice of Zadkine, who we called "loud Jupiter". Talented Zadkine ‹...› was beaming with energy and joy and never could be silent for long." (60)

In 1913 Ossip Zadkine got employed at the big studio in Rousselet street where he worked till 1928. In 1915 he joined the French army as a volunteer and was appointed to the field hospital by Eperne. In 1916 he survived in gas attack of the Germans and was seriously ill, for some time he worked as a translator in the Russian Expeditionary Corps and was invalided out of the Army.

Zadkine maintained friendly relations with Ieguda Penn. Vitebsk region local lore museum has the post card sent to his former teacher in 1916 from the front: "Dear Juri Moiseevich, how are you, how are you doing? I serve as a soldier in the Russian Ambulance in France, writing from the front.

How and what do you do? How are our friends - Lisitski, Liubakov, Mozel', Mekler and Chagall? For God's sake, reply. I would be very happy to learn about them all.

I am healthy, but I am bored - ugliness around, and my soul is cold. I want it end.

Are you working and what are you doing? Write.

Yours, Zadkine." (61)

After his service in the Russian Ambulance in 1918 Ossip Zadkine returned to Paris. In 1920ieth he worked out his own plasticity manner based on the principles of cubism and archaic elements, he used convexo-concave surfaces, holes and ruptures, combined heterogeneous materials, coloration, incrustation, made graphic drawings or texts on sculpture surfaces. Zadkine gained wide fame in Europe and America. In 1928 he sent six sculptures to the Russian department of the exhibition "Modern French Art" in Moscow, donated bronze sculpture "Music" (1918), sculpture "Group" (1927) and several graphic works to the State Museum of New Eastern Arts.

In 1941 Ossip Zadkine moved from the occupied France to USA and settled in New York, in 1945 he returned to Paris. He took part in more than 100 exhibitions in many countries, his works are exhibited in the biggest museums of Europe and USA. Zadkine died in 1967 in Paris and was buried at Montparnasse cemetery. In 1982 his Paris studio in D'Assas street was made to Zadkine Museum where a big collection of his works is kept now.

So different was the destiny for Vitebsk friends and acquaintances of Marc Chagall.



1. Report was given at XV International Chagall's Days in Vitebsk held on July 6-7, 2005.

2. Family register of Jewish merchants and petty bourgeoisie of Vitebsk. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2496/1/2546/41-43.

3. Same, 43.

4. Same.

5. Examination list of students at Vitebsk town specialized school for the school year 1900 - 1901. II class, I department. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2670/1/85.

6. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2670/1/40/86.

7. M. Chagall. Mon vie. P.66.

8. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2595/1/5.

9. Same, 9/73-78.

10. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2496/1/2546/43.

11. Same, 41-42.

12. Vitebsk address book, 1913. p. XXII

13. Same. P.110

14. Registers of property owners. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2496/1/5182/462/543.

15. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2496/1/5164/316-320. In February 1917 Shmerka Izrailevich Mekler bought from the nobleman A.T. Bujnitski also a land allotment in Kanatnaya and Shossejnaya streets. About this see Lisov A., Viktor Mekler. Predestination that did not fulfill. // Malevich. Classical avant-garde. Vitebsk. 8. Vitebsk, 2005. Р. 141.

16. Chagall. My life. P. 66.

17. Same, p. 67.

18. Same.

19. Calamanco is a fabric of linen weave that can be made in factory or at home on hand lathe, it has very high hygienic qualities.

20. Chagall M. My life. P. 144.

21. ABC of issued trading documents for 1916. National Historical Archives of Belarus.

22. Lisov A., Viktor Mekler. Predestination that did not fulfill. P. 145.

23. Exhibitions of the Soviet depictive art. Reference book. Volume 1, Moscow. Soviet artist, 1965. p. 52.

24. Lisov A., Viktor Mekler. Predestination that did not fulfill.

25. State archives of Vitebsk region (hereinafter called SAVR).

26. Chagall M. My life. P. 144.

27. Shatskich A. Vitebsk. Life of arts. 1917 - 1922. Moscow, 2001. p. 173.

28. Lisov A., Viktor Mekler. Predestination that did not fulfill. p. 147.

29. Exhibitions of the Soviet depictive art. Reference book. Volume 1, Moscow. Soviet artist, 1967. p. 85, 111, 156-157.

30. For more information see Khmelnitskaya L. New data to Bella Rosenfeld's biography of Vitebsk period. // Marc Chagall Museum bulletin. 2003. #2 (10). P. 13 - 17.

31. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2604/1/8/12 - 13; 342/59.

32. Chagall B. Blazing lights. Moscow: text, 2001. p. 190.

33. Shulman A. First love of Marc Chagall. // Mishpokha. 2004. #14. p. 106.

34. Family register of Jewish merchants and petty bourgeoisie of Vitebsk. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2496/1/2543/158.

35. Family register of Jewish merchants and petty bourgeoisie of Vitebsk. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2496/1/2525/9/9/.

36. Conscription register of merchants and petty bourgeoisie of Vitebsk for 1905. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2496/1/2908/59-60.

37. Same.

38. Shatskich A. Studios of the Russian Academy in Paris. // Iskustvo, 1989. #7. P. 63.

39. Nurenberg A. Creativity of sculptor O. Meshchaninov. // Prozhektor. 1928. #10 (128). March 4. p. 22.

40. Meyer Fr. Marc Chagall. Paris, 1995. p. 43.

41. SAVR, 1947/1/3/239-239.

42. Same, 241.

43. Same, 146.

44. Same, 237. See also Khmelnitskaya L. New data to Bella Rosenfeld's biography of Vitebsk period. // Marc Chagall Museum bulletin. 2000. #2. P. 5.

45. Shulman A. First love of Marc Chagall. P. 110.

46. Same.

47. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2670/1/48/4/18-19.

48. Minutes of the teachers council meeting of December 20, 1901. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2670/1/40/110-110.

49. National Historical Archives of Belarus. 2670/1/204/6. Published: Lisov A. Zadkine and Vitebsk. // Chagall digest. Vitebsk, 1996. p. 182.

50. State archives of Smolensk region, 1063/1/34/173. Letter dated June 17, 1968. Taking the opportunity we thank the workers of Zadkine Museum in Paris for possibility to see it.

51. Extract from Lisov A. Zadkine and Vitebsk. // Chagall digest. P. 183.

52. Jianou J. Zadkine. Paris, 1964. p. 29.

53. Romanovich D.S. "Woman's portrait" by Ossip Zadkine. // Reports of the State Museum of Depictive Arts named after A.S. Pushkin. Edition V. Moscow, 1977. p. 73 - 76.

54. Same, p. 76.

55. Extract from Mishin V. Notes on Chagall's drawings from the collection of the State Museum of Depictive Arts named after A.S. Pushkin. // Marc Chagall. "Good morning, motherland!" Moscow, 200

5. p. 92.

56. National Historical Archives of Belarus.

57. Apchinskaya N. Ruvim Mazel'. Essay on life and creativity. Moscow, State Museum of the Orient, 2004, p.8.

58. Same, p. 9.

59. Same, p. 7.

60. Marevna. Life with the painters of La Ruche. New York, 1974. p. 27-28Extracts from Shatskich A. Studios of the Russian Academy in Paris. P. 66.

61. Extract from Kichina E. About several aspects of creative heritage of Vitebsk arts school // Chagall digest. Vitebsk, 1996, p. 154-155.


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

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