Marc Chagall was, by Charles Sorlier’s estimation, ‘destined’ to make posters. The great Russian Jew who brought folkloric life to the Parisian avant-garde, Chagall was in his mid-sixties by the time he first took on the challenge of designing his own exhibition posters. It was Sorlier, lithographer-in-chief at the esteemed Mourlot Frères atelier, who first taught Chagall the lithographic process in the early 1950s. Having produced numerous etchings across the 1920s and ‘30s, Chagall was already a naturally dexterous printmaker, but in lithography he found a rejuvenating lease of life: ‘When I held in my hand a lithographic stone…I believed I was touching a talisman. It seemed to me that I could entrust them with all my joys, all my sorrows…It is possible to draw well and yet not possess in one’s fingers the lithographic touch; this is a matter of feeling.’

collection of Chagall lithographic exhibition posters

Within weeks of working together, Chagall and Sorlier developed a close bond that would last to the end of the artist’s life. Despite coming to lithography in his twilight years, in his output he was as sprightly as ever, producing over eighty posters in the last two decades of his life.

poster demonstrating Chagall’s love of bright colour and innocent imagery

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Chagall was adamant that he be as involved in their production as possible, rather than devolving their design to the studio. After hand-colouring proofs with gouache or watercolour, Chagall would meticulously test mixes of ink with Sorlier until an exact match could be produced. Unusually, he also demanded total transparency of authorship; in those instances where Sorlier had prepared the lithographic block according to Chagall’s instructions, the artist insisted that Sorlier’s name accompany his own on the plate.

‘Moïse et les Tables de la Loi’

Twenty-one of Chagall’s posters were engraved wholly by the artist himself, of which Moses and the Tablets of the Law is one such example. Published in 1962 when Chagall was seventy-five years old, the image is as vital as those of his youth. Though the design of Moses receiving the commandments was entirely original, produced specifically for this exhibition poster, it was a subject Chagall had tackled before in various religious projects. From its vigorous black line to its radiant touches of yellow and blue, Chagall lends the scene a commanding sense of the epic. The ‘talismanic’ power he felt emanate from the lithographic block is expressively echoed in the tablets handed down from heaven, the mirrored hands of God and Moses beautifully illustrating their divine connection through the stone.

Of the many posters Chagall produced, this must have been a favourite: once a lithograph has been editioned, the block is usually scrubbed clean to prevent further printing, but in this instance Chagall chose to keep the black plate to rework into a separate print – a highly unusual decision which he was to repeat only once in his twenty years of poster design.

From his intuitive understanding of the marriage of text and image to his generosity of artistic spirit, Chagall brought to his posters, in the final words of Sorlier, ‘a largesse of colour and joy; thanks to him, the walls of the whole world sing.’

View Moses and the Tablets and more original Chagall posters online here >