“Up there in my painting I wanted to reflect, like a mirror in a bouquet, the dreams and creations of the singers and musicians, to recall the movements of the colourfully attired audience below, and to honour the great opera and ballet composers… Now I offer this work as a gift of gratitude to France and its École de Paris, without which there would be no freedom” – Marc Chagall
When I visited Paris Opera for the first time I got a little stunned by a number of artworks that the building houses. There are sculptures, paintings, chandeliers, busts and mosaics everywhere. I did not know where to turn or where to start. The first question that came to mind was: could I be living in a place like that? After the first shock, I began to dwell on the details of its corridors and rooms; and the first impression was that there was not enough time to digest so much beauty. So I walked around the aisles without realising that the time had passed and the night had fallen.
Faced with so many details, I could never tell you about my visit to the Palais Garnier in one single post. I will, however, do it in stages hoping to be able to describe in detail the images captured on my tablet.
This piece of work was commissioned to Russian painter Marc Chagall (1887-1985) in 1963. When the work was finished in 1964, he refused to charge for it, so the French Government only undertook the costs for the paints and installation.
The painting consists of 12 canvases measuring altogether almost 240 m2. These pieces were mounted on a mobile frame installed in the middle of the auditorium, under which the crystal chandelier was hung.
Displaying almost childlike figures, the themes are marked by colour groups. All of them contain elements related to music and ballet, in which Chagall honoured 14 of the greatest classical composers: Mussorgsky, Mozart, Wagner, Berlioz, Rameau, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Adam, Bizet, Verdi, Beethoven, and Gluck.
At that time the critics were divided. Some thought that a piece of artwork made by a Russian-Jewish modernist did not suit the historical building. Others felt that the work was too much primitive for which it was commissioned.
On the inauguration day, 23 September 1964, the guests were stunned when Chagall’s work was disclosed to the sound of Jupiter Symphony by Mozart. In the end, the new work was recognised as a great contribution to the French culture.
There is no doubt that the painting is a masterpiece. Its colourful touch highlights the seats shades of burgundy and the gold coloured walls and galleries. Perhaps at the time the critics were overly conservative; but nowadays designers and architects are more eclectic; and understand how different styles can contribute to interior design.
To me, Chagall’s geniality is revealed in the creation of timeless pieces that suit any environment; and in the case of the Paris Opera’s ceiling, each theme developed in the panel is an independent piece of works per se, which could also be nicely displayed individually.