Marc Chagall used to say that “color is everything, color is vibration like music”. It is enough to look at the bright colors of his painting King David (1951) with the golden yellow of his crown and his harp and the flaming red of his dress to be convinced that the color vibrates like music. Moreover, Chagall’s recommends that “you have to make the drawing sing through the color.” This shows the intensity of his sense for musical spirit and how it inspired his work as a painter. It is said that he usually painted while listening to the music of Mozart.
Color and Music
Some say that in painting as in music, there is a major scale—red and yellow—and a minor scale (blue), based on the three primary colors. Applying this principle to King David, we can easily see that the predominant colors of red and yellow are in the upper part of the painting, where they are in the major scale expressing the legendary glory of the young King. In the lower part, the predominant colors are blue and black giving the minor scale. In the image of the prophet Jeremiah in mourning, we see the cries of the old King David.
The upper part of the painting thus refers to the glorious years of King David, whom Chagall presents as the musician of the Book of Psalms, but above all as the romantic poet of love songs from the Jewish tradition of the Bible, the Song of Songs. Thus, a bride is painted facing David. She is dressed in a white dress with a long train, gliding through the air like a comet. But below the bride is another woman, who carries a three-branched candlestick. A possible explanation for these two women is that they were the women of Chagall’s life: Bella, his first wife and his muse, and Valentina, or Vava, who he married after Bella’s death.
If we look above the figure of the bride, we discover several typically Chagallian elements: The painter Chagall himself holding a palette in his left hand and a frame in his right hand; a red rooster, drawn in the center of the full moon; an angel, bringing a bouquet of bright yellow flowers, and a fiddler, playing the fiddle for the villagers of Vitebsk, where Chagall was born.
In the lower part of this painting, Marc Chagall has depicted sorrowful scenes. Joy and sorrow are always together in a life. We see a red sun, fiercely red like a fireball that consumes a city and drives people away. Chagall may have wanted to draw attention to the wars waged by David. Chagall, of course, knew the misery of war in his lifetime that spanned two World Wars and the Russian revolution. Here, in the incandescence of the fire, we see a mother running away with her child at her breast, a woman painted as if the Christian Madonna. The destruction of the city from which the people flee could be a David’s nightmare or premonition of the future of Jerusalem. David and his son Solomon had built the wonderful city of Jerusalem, but Jeremiah had a vision of the destruction of this city and lamented its fate. Therefore, Chagall painted a dark green mourning Jeremiah sitting in the right corner, quite possibly to represent the sadness and grief of the old King David.
On the topic of color and music, Chagall sometimes liked to add that “the depth of colour goes through the eyes and remains within the soul, in the same way that music enters the ear and stays in the soul.”