Marc Chagall is one of the greatest visual artists of the twentieth century. He did not shy away from counting himself among the greatest Western artists of all time. His use of colour is brilliant and tied in closely with the meaning we assign -often unsconsciously- to the many colours and colour combinations that exist. He also sought to distill his imagery from the common background, often subconscious, shared by Western people. This gives the images and colours a broad appeal: Chagall‘s work is not restricted to a select group of art lovers and connoisseurs.
Only too aware of his stature, Chagall worked systematically from 1914 on, when he returned from Paris to his native Belarus, to enhance the myths surrounding his person. He rewrote his youth and led a colorful, nomadic lifestyle -certainly in the first two phases of his life, up to age 65- which facilitated the myth-forming. This was all the more possible because many of those in his circle helped perpetuate the myths.
Chagall preferred seeing himself as a self-taught artist who only esteemed a handful of artists beside his great example Rembrandt. He downplayed the influence and things learned from the teachers of his youth. And it must be said that during his student years in Paris (1911-14) he continually started anew and from scratch. He was determined to invent the wheel himself, and not only in painting: later, he would also find his own way, largely unaided, in his graphic and glass art.
Chagall grew up in a pious Jewish Orthodox environment at the end of the nineteenth century, when the religious experience in Europe was receiving strong new impulses. Upon leaving the parental home, he discarded most of this as antiquated ballast. He did however feel a strong connection to the Jewish people all his life. It irked him when his art was classified as ‘Jewish-art’, even if much of his imagery has Judaeo-Christian connotations and about a third of his work has religious undertones. He himself traced his art’s religious character to the deeper, unconsciouly active layers in European culture.
More than forty years ago, Willemien Uyterlinde and Pieter Zuidema bought their first signed colour lithographs by Chagall. Over the years, a collection has grown that now spans about four thousand original works of graphic art. This collection in turn gave rise to a library of Chagall publications. There exist a hundred nooks/collections of original graphic art by Chagall, as well as about a hundred books to which Chagall contributed directly in another way. Then there are hundreds of reference works and exhibition catalogues, and hundreds more books about Chagall. Even if we limit ourselves to publications in French, English, German and Dutch and exclude the thousands of uncollected publications such as magazine articles, the Wuyt library barely contains half of all this. Although we do have the most important half, the library still gets added to every week.