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Picasso & Chagall

Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall at the Madoura ceramics workshop in Vallauris, France (1948) – Photo: Reporters Associes/Gamma Features

In 1944, Marc Chagall sent Pablo Picasso a letter from the United States — where he was living on political asylum — requesting to meet him. Then, at the end of Second World War, he traveled to Vallauris, France, where Picasso was living at the time, to begin a 20-year friendship made of festive dinner parties, reciprocal inspiration and visits to their studios, but that would eventually end badly.

The two were always aware of each others artistic output and Chagall held Picasso in high esteem throughout his early career, even dedicating him a drawing named Thinking of Picasso, in 1914. Fifty years after that work, the situation seemed completely changed. As it is divulged, the friendship ended over an argument that occurred at a dinner party that Chagall hosted for Picasso and Françoise Gilot. “When are you going back to Russia?” Picasso asked his host. They were both expatriots living in France, one from Russia, the other from Spain. “After you,” said Chagall with a smile. “I hear you are greatly loved there — referring to political reasons — but not your work. You try to make it there and I’ll wait and see how you do.”

Picasso didn’t like that answer, and after dinner he was feeling his wine and his guard was down. “I guess with you it’s a question of business,” he told Chagall. “You won’t go unless there’s money in it.”

Le Violiniste / The Fiddler (1912-1913) – Marc Chagall
Le Marin (1943) – Pablo Picasso
Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso, St. Paul de Vence (1955) – Photo: Philippe Halsman
Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso in Vallauris, France (ca. 1952) – Photo: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho

Françoise Gilot said Chagall grinned at that remark but burned inside ever after. That was the end of the friendship. Anyway, even after that episode, Picasso still had great admiration for Chagall’s work. He once said of him, “When Henri Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is. I’m not crazy about his roosters and asses and flying violinists, and all the folklore, but his canvases are really painted, not just thrown together. Some of the last things he’s done in Vence convince me that there’s never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has.”

Chagall on the other hand, from that day forward, referred to Picasso as “The Spaniard” and, when asked about Picasso, sarcastically said, “What a genius Picasso is. It’s a pity he doesn’t paint.” Of course, even from these words, it is not difficult to guess the Russian painter’s esteem for his “Spaniard” friend.

The silence between the two up until their deaths is a rather sad ending for what could have been a very rich exchange, both artistically and personally. But, for a brief moment of time, two of the greatest artists in history shared dinners and ideas and the world is all the more richer for it.

Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall at the Madoura ceramics workshop in Vallauris, France (1948) – Photo: Reporters Associes/Gamma Features

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