Like most modern masters, Chagall participated in the creation of “livres d´artiste” or artist books (sometimes referred to as “illustrated books”). This tradition, which has existed for centuries, pairs the visual artist with the work of an author, poet, or historical text to create a collaborative realization. Artists have long been fascinated and even challenged by the notion of interpreting literature through their own unique imagery. Dealers and publishers, such as Ambroise Vollard, Albert Skira, Paul Cassirer, Andre Salmon, Teriade and others, commissioned artists to create these editions. Modern artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Miro, and Chagall created substantial oeuvres of “livres d´artiste” and these works are highly sought after by collectors in both the fine print and bibliophile worlds.
Every aspect of the book would be carefully considered by the artist and publisher, from the dimensions, the materials to be used, paper choices, typefaces, edition size and, of course, the media employed by the artist for the illustrations. In Chagall’s case, the techniques of etching and lithography were most often chosen, but the techniques of woodcut (Poems, 1968) and linoleum cut (Six Gravures sur Linoleum, 1984, his final book) were also employed.
Chagall created 114 books, albums and catalogs between the years 1921-1984. Some included only one print, while others included as many as 105 different illustrations (La Bible). The decade of the 1960s was his most prolific. Between 1960 and 1969 he created 45 illustrated “livres d´artiste” including several that would ultimately be viewed as creative and printmaking masterpieces. These include Daphnis & Chloe, Story of the Exodus and Le Cirque (The Circus), among others.
Chagall’s illustrated books were cataloged by Patrick Cramer in Marc Chagall–The Illustrated Books, published in 1995.
Some of his most notable illustration projects, in terms of artistic interpretation, use of medium and historical significance are listed below:
- Mein Leben (My Life), 1923; Cassirer
- Maternite, Marcel Arland, 1926, Au Sans Pareill
- Les Sept Peches Capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins), Jean Giradoux and others, 1926, Somon Kra
- Les Ames Morts (The Dead Souls), Nicholas Gogal, 1948, Vollard-Teriade
- Arabian Nights, 1948, Pantheon
- Fables, Jean de la Fontaine, 1952, Vollard-Teriade
- Bible, 1956, Vollard-Teriade
- De Mauvais Sujets (The Bad Subjects), Jean Paulhan, 1958, les Bibliophiles de l´Union Francaise
- Daphnis & Chloe, Longus, 1961, Teriade
- The Story of the Exodus, 1966, Amiel
- Cirque (Circus), 1967, Teriade
- Sur la Terre des Dieux (In the Land of the Gods), Robert Marteau, 1967, A.C. Mazo
- Poemes, Marc Chagall, 1968, Cramer
- L’Odyssee, Homer, 1975, Fernand Mourlot
- The Temperst, William Shakespeare, 1975, Andre Sauret
- Psaumes de David (Psalms of David), 1979, Gerald Cramer
- Six Gravures sur Linoleum (Six engravings in Linoleum), Marc Chagall, 1984, Gerald Cramer