Piece by Piece: "La Mort de Dorcon"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The space for temporary exhibitions at Schumacher Gallery is couched on almost every side by rooms and partitions covered with works from Capital University's permanent art collection. The school's diverse holdings include a number of works by well-known Ohio artists, a substantial collection of Inuit art, etchings by Rembrandt and Durer, and graphic works by Warhol, Dali and Picasso.

As Director Cassandra Tellier explained, the permanent works are reshuffled within their galleries each year, but one piece always ends up holding its place facing her office: La Mort de Dorcon, one of two Marc Chagall lithographs hanging at Schumacher. "It's a favorite of both of ours," she said, referring to assistant David Gentilini.

One of 60 signed prints, the color lithograph depicts a scene from the ancient Greek fable Daphnis and Chloe, in which the heroine Chloe's thwarted, fatally wounded suitor Dorcon helps her rescue her true love Daphnis from marauding pirates.

Daphnis clings to her as she holds the pipe that called Dorcon's stolen cattle to one side of the pirate ship, capsizing it and sending cows and Daphnis swimming to safety. All of the figures float in a sea of Chagall's deep, beautiful blues, their waves interrupted by fiery reds and lush greens.

A contemporary of Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani, Chagall was a modernist who experimented with the rigor of cubism as a youth living in Paris in the 1910s. Later, surrealists literally begged to claim him as one of their own, but Chagall had developed an individual style that was more heartfelt - uniquely positive, passionate and colorful.

His choice of subjects frequently reflected his childhood in Russia and his Jewish heritage. His figures often share space with angels, horses, cows or chickens, and aren't ruled by laws of gravity or perspective.

The painter first started printing in 1922, creating drawings that he'd turn over to a professional printer, and soon he had his first commission for book illustrations. Chagall finally learned the process himself in the 1950s and took it to new aesthetic levels (he'd do the same for stained glass in the '60s) with works such as Daphnis and Chloe.

Traveling twice to Greece to produce drawings and gouaches for inspiration, Chagall eventually created 42 illustrations to tell the tale. The color lithography process involves using stone or metal printing plates and a substance that holds or deflects ink to render an image, and where three to six stones per print was the standard when the works were completed in 1961, Chagall used as many as 30 stones for each of his images.

This allowed him to experiment with texture and lay down pure fields of the vibrant new ink colors he created with the project's colorist. The results, according to art dealer James Healy, are "universally accepted as the artist's most important original prints."

Is there an artwork in Columbus you'd like to know more about? Send your suggestions to mstarker@columbusalive.com.

"La Mort de Dorcon"

Marc Chagall, 1961

On view at Capital University's Schumacher Gallery

Web: capital.edu/schumacher