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Praying Jew

Praying Jew

Born Russia, active Russia, France, and USA, 1887–1985

Praying Jew

Oil on canvas

40 x 31 cm

From the Jewish Museum, Berlin, via JRSO (Jewish Restitution Successor Organization)

© ADAGP, Paris
Accession number:


Arts/Modern Art

Upon arriving in Paris from his native Russia in 1910, Chagall began acquainting himself with avantgarde painting styles. He absorbed elements of Fauvism and Cubism, combining them with Jewish and Russian folk motifs in an innovative manner. Around 1912, he began a series of works depicting aspects of Jewish religious life, as a declaration and demonstration of the potential of a modern Jewish art. In his early autobiography, My Life (1921-22), Chagall explained that his models for these pictures had been elderly beggars and itinerant Hasidim. Shown in profile, the praying figure in this work is executed in a modified Cubist style. Sharp contrasts communicate the emotional tone to the viewer. The rounded forms of the head, cheek, back, and faceted sleeve coexist with the sharp-edged nose, trousers, shirt, and phylactery. Two Stars of David, one on the cover of a partially visible Torah scroll and the other free-floating, appear to press in and down on the figure, hemming it in. The sense of enclosed isolation is enhanced by the darkness of the room, which is lit only by a tiny window and an eerie yellow glow of undisclosed origin.

From the Israel Museum publications:

Steinberg, Shlomit, Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, English / Hebrew

Kamien-Kazhdan, Adina (ed.), Modernism in Dialogue: 20th-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Israel Museum, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2010


Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 18/02/2008 - 23/08/2008

Digital presentation of this object was made possible by:
Ms. Joan Lessing, New York and Jerusalem