Increasingly disillusioned by Soviet rule after moving to Moscow in 1920, Chagall left Russiain 1922. Before he did, he produced one of the high points of his career: the murals for the interior of the State Jewish Chamber Theatre in Moscow.

The art critic Abram Efros, who had recently become the theatre’s artistic director, recruited the artist in November 1920 as a designer. For the first season’s opening night, Chagall was asked to design the sets and costumes for three one-act plays by Sholem Aleichem. In addition to this, Chagall decided to decorate the entire room in which the tiny theatre was located by painting a set of wall and ceiling murals on canvas, as well as a stage curtain. The wall panels Introduction to the Jewish Theatre, Music, Dance, Drama, Literature, Love on the Stage and The Wedding Feast frieze survive, while the curtain and ceiling mural are lost. Chagall’s frenetic month-long endeavour transformed the space into a totally immersive allegorical environment that was quickly nicknamed ‘Chagall’s Box’.

With their dreamy, pale colours and detailed compositions these works act as a manifesto for Chagall’s deliberately hybrid aesthetic, in which broad bands of colour plainly derived from suprematism are the backdrop – but only the backdrop – for resolutely non-abstract portraits of performers, artists and livestock. These monumental paintings packed with activity present Chagall’s panoramic vision of the Jewish theatre as the theatre of life.