Chagall’s Le Cirque: After years apart, the series is united and headed for Jewish Museum Milwaukee | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Chagall’s Le Cirque: After years apart, the series is united and headed for Jewish Museum Milwaukee

Artist Marc Chagall was described as “the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century” by art critic Robert Hughes.

On June 14, 2019, you’ll be able to experience Chagall’s quintessentially Jewish art when his Le Cirque series — on loan from the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc — goes on display at Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N. Prospect Ave.

Chagall’s Le Cirque is organized by the Rahr-West Art Museum, City of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Image courtesy of Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Portfolio image M-493 © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

“Not only is it exciting to showcase Chagall’s work, but in bringing the Le Cirque series to the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, we’re sort of closing a circle,” said Molly Dubin, curator for the museum. “That’s because Rahr-West acquired 30 of the Le Cirque lithographs from the late Milton Katz, who is the father of Moshe Katz, one of Milwaukee’s beloved Jewish educators.”

Katz is also board president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

“If a painter is Jewish and paints life, how can he help having Jewish elements in his work! But if he is a good painter, there will be more than that. The Jewish element will be there, but his art will tend to approach the universal.”

­- Marc Chagall (July 6, 1887—March 28, 1985), on his Jewish identity


The Rahr-West Art Museum acquired 30 of Katz’s limited-edition lithographs in 1984. But the series included 38. For the next 30 years, Rahr-West attempted to find the remaining eight. In March of 2016, the missing eight pieces were auctioned by Christie’s auction house on behalf of an anonymous seller. The museum used reserve funds to purchase the prints.

Greg Vadney, the executive director of the Rahr-West Museum, was very excited to have finally been able to obtain all 38 pieces of the series, which was originally created in Paris in 1967.

Vadney described Chagall’s work as “soulful,” adding that the “Le Cirque series show a depth of emotion through vivid color and imaginative composition. They are strange and ethereal, but also very human.”

Artist Marc Chagall, circa 1920 by Pierre Choumoff. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Le cirque means “the circus” in French. That circus theme makes the Chagall series an appropriate addition for the museum’s companion exhibit celebrating Wisconsin’s grand circus history and the tradition that was Milwaukee’s Great Circus Parade.

In addition to Chagall’s Le Cirque series, Dubin said “the exhibit includes materials from the collections and archives of several institutions and private collections, including items from the family of Ben Barkin, who was considered ‘the father’ of Milwaukee’s Great Circus Parade.”

On the evening of June 13, Bella Meyer, the granddaughter of Chagall, will give a keynote speech to kick off the Le Cirque series at Jewish Museum Milwaukee. The public is welcome and can register at The Le Cirque series will be on exhibit until Sept. 18, 2019.

Museum admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for students. Access to the special exhibit, which includes the locally based companion exhibit on Milwaukee’s Great Circus Parade, is included with admission. For hours, directions and additional information, call 414-390-5730.