Chagall recreated Vitebsk many times over during his first year in Paris. In his autobiography, My Life 1922, he wrote ‘Why do I always paint Vitebsk? … with these pictures I create my own reality for myself, I recreate my home.’ Many thousands of miles away from Russia, Chagall’s imaginative reworking of his home city blended reality and fantasy and proved an elaborate means by which to retain his links with home.
In Paris, Chagall came to be respected and admired for his whimsical and off-kilter paintings that presented recognisable elements from Russian Jewish life in a vibrant new fashion. He explored the major museums – including the Louvre – soaked up the cosmopolitan milieu, and coolly assessed the dominant artistic trends of the day, taking from them only what was useful for the development of his art. Despite this process of assimilation, Chagall neither embraced the drive towards abstraction nor took any immediate inspiration from his new metropolitan surroundings. Rather, he looked backwards to what he had left behind.
Chagall believed that art’s primary function was to interpret the world through iconography and allegory. He had total faith in the power of the image, and from around 1911 began to introduce metaphor into his work. Unlike other artists at this time in Paris, Chagall didn’t question the theoretical and material limits of painting – he simply got on with it, crafting his paintings with immaculate technique and energetic brushwork.