By Mike Cohen


Before I went to the Montreal  Museum of Fine Arts  (  I must admit that while I was very familiar with the name Marc Chagall, I knew precious little about this famous artist and illustrator.



Chagall: Colour and Music is the biggest Canadian exhibition ever devoted to Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and it continues until June 11. This is a “must see” as far as I am concerned.



Marc Chagall was born in a small Hassidic community on the outskirts of Vitebsk, Belarus, on July 7, 1887 as Moishe Segal. By walking through this exhibit you get a full accounting of his life. His father was a fishmonger, and his mother ran a small sundries shop in the village.  He grew up to the sounds of Jewish music, whose profound influence is shown by the recurrent appearance of a Jewish folk fiddler in his paintings. Other types of music also impacted his art, particularly Mozart’s.



As a child, Chagall attended the Jewish elementary school, where he studied Hebrew and the Bible, before later attending the Russian public school. He began to learn the fundamentals of drawing during this time, but perhaps more importantly, he absorbed the world around him, storing away the imagery and themes that would feature largely in most of his later work.



When Chagall  was 19 he enrolled at a private, all-Jewish art school and began his formal education in painting, studying briefly with portrait artist Yehuda Pen. However, he left the school after several months, moving to St. Petersburg in 1907 to study at the Imperial Society for the Protection of Fine Arts. The following year, he registered  at the Svanseva School, studying with set designer Léon Bakst, whose work had been featured in Sergeu Diaghilev’s   Ballets Russes. This early experience would prove important to Chagall’s later career as well.



The Exhibition’s  Focus on Music



Featuring 340 works of art and a large selection of documentary works, including films, photographs and musical excerpts, this multidisciplinary exhibition is the first to focus on Chagall’s profound connection to music in his life and work. Through this original approach, the exhibition demonstrates how all of Chagall’s work, from his paintings, works on paper, costumes, sculptures, ceramics, stained glass and tapestries to his creations for the stage and his large-scale decorative and architectural projects, were imbued with musicality. The layout of this major exhibition is both chronological and thematic, covering all the periods of the artist’s long and productive career – his years in Russia, his Parisian period, his exile in New York, his time in Mexico and his life in the South of France.




Many of the galleries feature a musical accompaniment, and the exhibition includes films, slideshows and an incredible projection of the famous ceiling of the Paris Opera, which Chagall completed in 1964. This close-up view allows us to appreciate the splendour of this monumental decor and view details that are normally not visible to the naked eye. The ceiling of the Paris Opera and the murals of the Metropolitan Opera in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York (1966) embody the concept of total art that was so important to the artist.






The Arte Musica Foundation, in residence at the Museum, will present a fascinating musical portrait of Marc Chagall in 12 concerts in Bourgie Hall and four lectures in the Maxwell Cummings Auditorium. Echoing the many kinds of music that influenced the painter, this series will take us into his flamboyant world. The Jewish music of his childhood, the French composers of the early twentieth century and the classical music of his native Russia comprise the core of this rich program – a kaleidoscope in which musical and pictorial languages combine in a colourful dialogue!



For details on the program visit



The exhibition features a klezmer violin decorated with the Star of David, which would have belonged to a typical Belarusian family like Chagall’s. It is on loan from Amnon Weinstein, the celebrated luthier who has spent the last 20 years locating and restoring violins that were played by Jews in the concentration camps and ghettos during the Nazi era. Weinstein, many of whose relatives perished during the Holocaust, named these instruments “Violins of Hope.”



One hour tours are offered in Yiddish and Hebrew. You need to reserve at least one week in advance by calling 514-285-2000, option 3.






The exhibition is accompanied by a 416-page art book containing some 646 illustrations, published in English and French by the MMFA and Les Éditions Gallimard, under the general editorship of Ambre Gauthier, Guest Curator, and Meret Meyer, the artist’s granddaughter and vice-president of the Comité Marc Chagall. It features texts by Nathalie Hazan-Brunet, Ulysse Hecq-Cauquil, Michaël de Saint-Cheron, Julien Flak, Sylvie Forestier, Bruno Gaudichon, Ambre Gauthier, Evgenia Kuzmina, Bella Meyer, Benoît Marq, David McNeil, Meret Meyer, Mikhail Rudy, Christine Vargas and Éric de Viss.



This exhibition has been organized  by the MMFA in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and initiated by the Cité de la musique – Philharmonie de Paris, and La Piscine – Musée d’art et d’industrie André Diligent, Roubaix, with the support of the Chagall Estate. It was was made possible by presenting sponsor RBC, Federation CJA, a major patron in celebration of their 100th anniversary. The Azrieli Foundation is a sponsor. Financial contributions have come from Jordan Aberman, Betsy Pomerantz & Sam Berliner, Ann Birks, Barbara Bronfman, Claudine & Stephen Bronfman, Freda & Irwin Browns, Joanne & Douglas Cohen, Sylvie Plouffe & Barry Cole, Elaine & Richard Dubrovsky, Maurice Forget, Isabelle Benoit & Geoffrey Gelber, Adam Goldberg, Michael Goodman, Steve Gross, Joelle & Bruce Kent, Leo Kolber, Ellen Wallace & David Laidley, Céline & Jacques Lamarre, Lillian & Billy Mauer, Marie Senécal-Tremblay & Bruce McNiven, Jacqueline McClaran & Jonathan Meakins, Elaine Tolmatch & David Pariser, Rhoda & Joel Pinsky, Betty Palik & Michael Prupas, Julia & Stephen F. Reitman, Hilary Pearson & Michael Sabia, Sara & Irwin Tauben, the MMFA’s Chagall Ambassadors – a group of private Montreal donors who gave generously to the fundraising initiative organized by Ann Birks, Joanne Cohen, Lilian Mauer, Marie Senécal-Tremblay and Elaine Tolmatch, to whom we extend our sincere thanks.






The Museum thanks Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt and acknowledges the vital contribution of Air Canada, the Volunteer Association of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Tourisme Montréal, the Consulate General of Israel in Montreal, as well as Bell, La Presse and the Montreal Gazette. Support also comes fromQuebec’s Ministère de la Culture et des Communications  and the Conseil des arts de Montréal Department of Canadian Heritage through its Canada Travelling Exhibition Indemnification Program. The Museum’s International Exhibition Programme is aided financially by the Exhibition Fund of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Foundation and the Paul G. Desmarais Fund.



We rented some headsets for $7 each and carefully walked through each room, listening to the commentary and marvelling at the amazing presentation. The Jewish community can be proud of the opportunity here for members of other faiths to be educated about Chagall and his Jewish background.  On the audio tour a nice explanation of what the word “shtetl” means – small towns with large Jewish populations which existed in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust.



Marc Chagall died in 1985 at the age of 97.






The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of the remarkable Renata Hornstein who passed away last summer.



Serious patrons of the arts,  Holocaust survivors  Renata  and Michal  Hornstein built a remarkable life. Michal was born in Cracow, Poland. A graduate of the business school of that city, he was there during Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. He was arrested for deportation to Auschwitz, but escaped by jumping from the train and hid in the forests of Czechoslovakia. He then went into hiding in Budapest until the Russian army arrived in 1944. Michal then escaped to Bratislava, where he met  Renata, who was born in Lodz, Poland. She was just a young girl when her family took refuge in Warsaw at the beginning of the war. When her parents were imprisoned, Renata fled to Cracow and went on to join her uncles in Budapest. To avoid Nazi persecution, she set off again, this time in the direction of Bratislava. That’s where she met Michal, who had sought refuge among loved ones. At the end of the war, in 1946, the couple settled in Rome, where they married. Fascinated by art, particularly the work of the Dutch and Italian old masters, Renata brought Michal to the great museums of Rome, and together they began to build their famous collection.



In 1951, the couple immigrated to Montréal. Michal  went into business, founding Federal Construction Ltd., a real estate company of apartments and shopping centres, which he has been president of since 1952. A discerning art collector, he has been involved with the MMFA since 1970, initially as a member of the board of trustees. He then became vice-president of the board in 1979 and chair of the acquisition committee for European art before 1900 in 1982. For over 40 years, the couple showed tremendous generosity to the MMFA, donating a number of masterpieces by old masters and offering financial help for the acquisition of important works.



In 2012, Michal and Renata decided to donate their collection of old masters to the Museum, comprised of some 80 works with a value in excess of $75 million, the largest private modern history donation to a Quebec museum and the second largest in Canada. Recognized by international specialists, this collection is a national treasure without rival. In fact, the collection’s estimated value does not accurately measure its importance, because today it would be impossible to collect such a variety of canvases by old masters. Featuring mainly paintings, it covers several centuries, from the Renaissance to the advent of modern art.



The donation of this collection, which recounts the story of their lives, is testimony to the Hornstein’s commitment to the Museum   as well as their affection for Montréal. It is a unique legacy for the MMFA, Montreal, Quebec and Canada.  To house the collection, in 2017 the Museum  has inaugurated the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavillion for Peace  as part of Montréal’s 375th anniversary.



 I am sure Renata Hornstein would have greatly appreciated the Chagall Exhibition,



The MMFA is centrally located at 1380 Sherbrooke St W, Montreal, QC H3G 1J5. It is open every day but Monday. Admission for the Chagall exhibit is $23 for those aged 31 and over ($11.50 on Wednesdays as of 5 pm), $15 for those aged 13 to 30 ($11.50 on Wednesdays as of 5 pm) and free for kids 12 and under and VIP members. You can call 514-285-2000 for more information.