Marc Chagall was a man of keen intelligence, a shrewd observer of the contemporary scene, with a great sympathy for human suffering. He was born on July 7, 1887 in Vitebsk, Russia; his original name was Moishe Shagal (Segal), but when he became a foremost member of the Ecole de Paris, he adopted French citizenship and the French spelling of his name. Vitebsk was a good-sized Russian town of over 60,000, not a shtetl. His father supported a wife and eight children as a worker in a herring-pickling plant.
Sheltered by the Jewish commandment against graven images, the young Chagall never saw so much as a drawing until, one day, he watched a schoolmate copying a magazine illustration. He was ridiculed for his astonishment, but he began copying and improvising from magazines. Both Chagall's parents reluctantly agreed to let him study with Yehuda Pen, a Jewish artist in Vitebsk. Later, in 1906, they allowed their son to study in St. Petersburg, where he was exposed to Russian Iconography and folk art. At that time, Jews could leave the Pale only for business and employment and were required to carry a permit. Chagall, who was in St. Petersburg without a permit, was imprisoned briefly.
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