I and the Village

I and the Village Description

I and the Village, 1911
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
oil on canvas
75" x 59"
Museum of Modern Art New York, New York
gift of Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund 

Painted the year after Chagall came to Paris, I and the Villageevokes his memories of his native Hasidic community outside Vitebsk. In the village, peasants and animals lived side by side, in a mutual dependence here signified by the line from peasant to cow, connecting their eyes. The peasant's flowering sprig, symbolically a tree of life, is the reward of their partnership. For Hasids, animals were also humanity's link to the universe, and the painting's large circular forms suggest the orbiting sun, moon (in eclipse at the lower left), and earth.

The geometries of I and the Village are inspired by the broken planes of Cubism, but Chagall's is a personalized version. As a boy he had loved geometry: "Lines, angles, triangles, squares," he would later recall, "carried me far away to enchanting horizons." Conversely, in Paris he used a disjunctive geometric structure to carry him back home. Where Cubism was mainly an art of urban avant-garde society, I and the Village is nostalgic and magical, a rural fairy tale: objects jumble together, scale shifts abruptly, and a woman and two houses, at the painting's top, stand upside-down. "For the Cubists," Chagall said, "a painting was a surface covered with forms in a certain order. For me a painting is a surface covered with representations of things . . . in which logic and illustration have no importance."


"Chagall here relives the experiences of his childhood, experiences so important to him that his imagination shaped and reshaped them without ever getting rid of their memories."
~H. W. Janson

I and the Village is a "narrative self-portrait" featuring memories of Marc Chagall's childhood in the town of Vitebsk, in Russia. The dreamy painting is ripe with images of the Russian landscape and symbols from folk stories.

The picture can be broken down into 5 distinct sections. The first at the top right includes a rendering of Chagall's home town, with a church, a series of houses and two people. The woman and some of the houses in the village are upside down, further emphasizing the dreamlike quality of the work. Below that we see a green-faced man who some say is Chagall himself. At the bottom of the work, we see a hand holding a flowering branch. Next to that, an object which some say is a child's bouncing ball -- perhaps a plaything from Chagall's earlier days. Finally, we see the image of a milkmaid layered atop the head of a lamb - a motif common to Chagall. (Cows, bulls and lambs figure in many of Chagall's paintings as cosmic symbols).

The important thing to note about this picture is that is a reflection of Marc Chagall's dreams and memories. Also relevant is the fact that many of Chagall's pictures (including this one) have symbols that relate specifically to Jewish folklore.

I and the Village is one of Chagall's earliest surviving works. In it, he ignored the laws of gravity. Objects are upside down, things appear to float and perspective is disregarded entirely. Instead, Chagall chose to focus on color, form and shape. The result is a very emotional work -- a visual diary of Marc Chagall's life.


Famous Russian-Jewish artist, Marc Chagall, was born in Belarus, but later became a naturalized Frenchman in 1909. The fact that he grew up in a small village would play a prominent role in many of his paintings, including his well-known creation ‘I and the Village’ painted in Paris in 1911.

Clearly exhibiting aspects of Cubism, ‘I and the Village’ is a lively composition of various objects, human features and animal components that are fragmented, superimposed, and randomly assembled to produce an abstract arrangement. The colours are vibrant and a stark contrast exists between the red, the green and the blue. It is a painting that provides multiple viewpoints and distinctive perspectives.


Influenced by a childhood spent in rural surroundings, Chagall’s ‘I and the Village’ is a dreamlike representation of goats, pastures, a farmer, a violinist, and simplistic images of houses, some of them upside-down. The whole could be viewed as a jigsaw puzzle extracted from a child’s imagination.

The painting possesses a significant amount of intrigue and symbolism. In the foreground of the painting, a green-faced man, wearing a cross around his neck, a cap on his head, and holding a glowing tree, stares directly across at the head of a goat, which encompasses another smaller goat being milked. In the background, a row of houses, an Orthodox church, and a man dressed in black carrying a scythe hurries past an upside down woman playing what appears to be a violin.

The geometric shapes and symbols grab the viewer’s attention. The small and large circles have been said to represent 3 spatial phenomena: the sun’s revolution in orbit, the earth’s revolution around the sun, and the moon’s revolution around the earth. Some have interpreted the smaller circle in the lower left-hand corner as an eclipse.

‘I and the Village’ illustrates the give and take between beings and the vibrant natural world surrounding them. It is a powerful display of the mutual relationship between humans, animals and plants.

“I and the Village” by Marc Chagall is housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, USA.

Like a dream or a memory, I and the Village is a jumble of images that overlap and fade into one another. A man and a cow stand almost nose-to-nose, a woman milks another cow, and around them are topsy-turvy houses and people, and a plant. These seemingly unconnected, confusing images were taken from life in the village where Chagall grew up.
Chagall was born to a religious Jewish family in a small Russian city. When he was 23, he moved to Paris, where he painted some of his best-known works, including i and the Village. In this painting, Chagall looks back fondly on the village he just left. The painting doesn't show the village in the usual way. Instead, I and the Village is more like the traditional stories of Jewish storytellers. A good storyteller can weave the simplest event into a tale so full of twists and turns that his listeners forget the real reason behind the story. These tales become magical worlds of their own - delightful places to get lost in.
Chagall invites us into his world in I and the Village. The farm animals, the plant, the church, and the villagers flow together to create a single, solid picture of village life. The circular, curving lines seem to suggest the passage of time and the changing of the seasons. 
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