I Kings, XVIII, 41-46.
This etching is from Chagall’s sublime Bible series. Almost 10 years in the making, and comprising over 100 etchings, it was the third of Chagall’s etching suites to be commissioned by the publisher Ambroise Vollard. Chagall’s Jewish identity had always informed his work; in this major suite, begun in 1930, it was to take centre stage.
Embarking on the project during a time of economic uncertainty, Chagall travelled to Palestine in 1931 for inspiration and worked on the plates throughout the 1930s, even as anti-Semitic violence and the rise of the Nazis threatened its existence. By January 1934, a major blow to the project came when Vollard suspended his financial support as he weathered the Depression, but Chagall continued unabated. The first 66 plates were completed by 1939, with the latter 39 already begun; but after Vollard’s untimely death and the advent of WWII, the project was postponed.
It would not be taken up again until 1952, when Chagall returned to the 39 unfinished plates. By 1956 the suite was complete, and a new publisher was found in Tériade. The final 105 etchings, characterised by an exquisite interweaving of lines hatched, scratched, and scored, are thought to be Chagall’s greatest and most personal work as a printmaker. ‘If we had nothing of Chagall but his bible,’ wrote Meyer Schapiro, writer and close friend, ‘he would be for us a great modern artist.’