Marc Chagall, The Revolution, 1937
Chagall’s painting is not a response to a specific event, but an attempt to articulate political disquiet and unease in his own terms. Two ways of grasping or shaping the world are juxtaposed in antithesis. To the left, revolutionaries are seen rushing the barricades, their red flags proudly proclaiming the victory of Communism. To the right, this image of unity, standing for political demands for equality, is counterbalanced by the free play of the human imagination. We see musicians, clowns and animals playing, the customary loving couple are lolling on the roof of a wooden hut, and in typical Chagall style, the force of gravity has been suspended so that the ubiquitous energies may develop freely. The figure of Lenin links the two zones; balanced acrobatically on one hand, he is showing the revolutionaries the true way to a world of individuality.
“I think the Revolution could be a great thing if it retained its respect for what is other and different.” Chagall had written, summing up his Russian experiences in the light of his view of himself as artist. The creative power of the individual is the driving force in the struggle for political liberty. But the old Jew in Solitude still sits thinking about his own future and that of his people… (via a world history of art)
The motif of the circus in the painting makes a political statement. Lenin balances as an acrobat (turning Russia on its head) beside a praying Jew with a Torah scroll. You can see Chagall himself in the upper right-hand corner, painting.