The fancy-free, childlike style of Marc Chagall paintings is rarely more evident than in Birthday. In this image we see Chagall portraying a young couple celebrating the female’s special day. The mood of the painting is festive, while still maintaining the vagueness that so often creeps into Marc Chagall paintings.
If not for the contorted male protagonist, it would be easy to walk past this painting without a second glance. It is this oddity that serves to grab the viewer’s attention, and almost demands that they take a closer look at the details. One could argue that the young man appears to be bending over out of his way to please his mate, as many of us strive to do for our loved ones on their birthdays. So few artists can provide such a sense of familiarity in the subtleties that stretch from edge to edge of the canvas. Who among us hasn’t given or received flowers or eaten cake on our birthdays? If not for the striking image of the young man, we may have dismissed these details as minor background artifacts.
It is clear that this painting was inspired by events in the artist’s life. Perhaps it is a childhood memory of his parents, or perhaps a self-portrait of Chagall and a friend. One thing is for sure, this setting had a profound impact on the artist’s sub-conscious, which is evident in the painstaking detail of the surroundings. Note the intricate artwork on the quilt hanging above the bed, and the complex shading used on the back wall.
Birthday is a great example of Chagall’s view of life, love, and family, and a tremendous illustration of his unique style. These two reasons are why it made it on my list of favorite Chagall paintings.