As we all take shelter from the biting cold and wrap up warm in front of the fire with our families, let’s enjoy the beauty of the soft white carpets of snow in our gardens and allow it to cause us to wonder and delight in the paradox that is life.
For days like this can bring so much laughter and joy to many of us as we are given surprise opportunities to spend extra time with our kids on their ‘snow days’. To watch them gasp with delight as they make fresh footprints in the snow, or taste a handful of magic white dust and let it melt on their lips. To curl up drinking hot chocolate and read stories together and to nurture an attitude of gratefulness that we are warm and comfortable in our cosy homes.
And yet for others these days seem cruel and filled with fear. Alone and unable to get out to buy their next meal, or a lack of pennies meaning that a sparse home cannot be heated and so instead they try and shelter under layers of hats and blankets just to stay alive in the place they belong. For those who have no place to call home, this weather, despite its beauty, brings danger and uncertainty.
I love this painting titled “Le Cheval Rouge” by Marc Chagall for to me, as we all his paintings, it depicts so beautifully this idea of paradox. In his home village of Vitebsk the heavy snow has turned life upside down. The deep blue star lit sky rests at the bottom of the canvas, it’s rows of Russian snow capped folk houses are topsy turvy beneath the glow of the thin silver moon, lit from within they reveal to us the warmth of the cosy family hearth, and the intimacy of community life with the domed, blue and yellow traditional church.
The upper half of the painting is filled with the icy cold colours of fresh snow and ice. A blue window is seen reflected in the corner from the houses below. Passing through this frozen scene is a sleigh, driven by a young woman in blue who gazes down upon the inhabited homes. Does she belong? Or is she just passing through? Is she of this world? Or does she remind us of the world that is to come? Perhaps a symbol of the loving protection of the Virgin Mary, watching over the small village where the artist was born. A red mystical, winged horse pulls the sleigh gently through the landscape yet because the image seems upside down we are given the sense that they are almost flying. Once again Chagall includes a rooster, a symbol of forgiveness and atonement, glowing in golden yellow standing beside the young maiden.
Chagall was a Russian Jew who knew much suffering for he lived through both the world wars, fleeing from the Nazis across Europe and eventually onto America where in 1944 his wife of 30 years, Bella was suddenly taken ill and passed away leaving him with a broken heart and an inability to put brush to canvas for many months. And yet his paintings always contain elements of hope and bright colour even in the darkest scenes he depicts. He is unique for a Jewish artist in that he often portrays elements of Christian narrative alongside his Jewish roots. Images of the crucified Christ amidst the torture and suffering of the Jewish nation are numerous. His ability to find moments of colour and healing amidst the depth of tragedy including his own, create visual reflections of the paradox and contradiction that is life.
He was a mystical seeker, embracing all that life brought his way and allowing it to pierce his heart so that he could discover the meaning of life and share it so beautifully with us all.
He writes, “I see the fire, the smoke and the gas; rising to the blue cloud, turning it black. I see the torn-out hair, the pulled-out teeth. They overwhelm me with my rabid palette. I stand in the desert before heaps of boots, clothing, ash and dung, and mumble my Kaddish. And as I stand—from my paintings, the painted David descends to me, harp in hand. He wants to help me weep and recite chapters of the Psalms.”
What is your favourite snow painting and why?