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Inna Rogatchi
War & Humanity Special Project

Inside the Forest of Dreams: Chagall-Picasso-Ernst Art Feast in Vilnius

Chagall - Picasso - Ernst: Tapestries & Ceramics exhibition in Vilnius. (C) Lithuanian National Museum of Art.

Visiting Chagall – Picasso-Ernst: Tapestries and Ceramics exhibition in Vilnius

Part I

The continuity, the bridge from Chagall and his friends and contemporaries’ legacy to us today is an essential importance, as it preserves and develops the forces of good. We all need it always, to keep humanity civilised, but now, we all do need  it ten-fold so, having the ugly whirl of hatred and violence encircling Jewish people and our legacy again. 

Appearance and Atmosphere

One gets into a large ceremonial hall of an old historical building, known as the Old Arsenal, in downtown Vilnius, to be smashed from the first minute.  The XV century hall of the meticulously maintained Museum of Applied Art and Design, part of the Lithuanian National Museum of Arts, hosts an exhibition extraordinaire, Chagall – Picasso – Ernst: Tapestries and Ceramics ( April 25 – September 30, 2024). 

Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

The large space of the interior of the Old Arsenal has been transformed into the forest of dreams visualised by and after great masters of modernism, contemporaries in between themselves, and close colleagues Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst. An exquisite selection of very rarely exhibited tapestries, with the smallest one being under two square metres and the largest one short of thirty square metres, creates a powerful impression of a concentrated tapestry world, which is not an usual exhibition scene.  When one visits the best tapestry collections in the world, such as one of the Vatican Museums, and several in Belgiums, France and Italy, the permanently exhibited tapestries there are basically making walls, as it was a norm when a tapestry appeared in a history of civilization. Being such walls, although thoroughly artistic ones, the decorative historical tapestries are rather the elements of interior design, albeit essentially beautiful ones. 

In the case of the unique exhibition in Vilnius, each of its twelve large and super-large tapestries , weaved after great works of the indisputable giant masters of the XX century, is a top form of rarely exhibited art of its own, a great artistic achievement. Exhibited together, with great ceramics works largely by Chagall, with one great plate by Picasso, these pearls of art, each in its own right, create a dizzy, mighty atmosphere, rarely existing in one place and period of time, a special space of superb talent in a very high concentration. 

Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

Normally, each of twelve tapestries presented at the show in Vilnius, would be worthy of an exhibition of its own. In this case, lucky visitors ( and they are many, with at least a thousand a week, which is a truly high number for not such a big country ) are getting into a very special atmosphere which has been created by the exhibition’s curator, Dr Vilma Gradinskaite  and very able architect Ula Zebrauskaite-Malinauske, in their non-trivial approach  and very effective design of the show. 

In that forest of dreams, tapestries hang down all over the place, with rare masterly ceramics , set in boldly coloured  orange vitrines, looking  like fantastic  flowers among the large trees. 

Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

In the case of the Chagall- Picasso-Ernst exhibition in Vilnius, its organisers, the leading experts of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art,  did produce a strong, appealing, modern, and innovative way of presenting these subjects to the exhibition’s visitors. They have created a special, new, unexpected world of talent and imagination, power and aspiration, a feast of creativity of a gold-mine of artistic details in all those works presented, both individually and as a very well thought of wholesome entity.  The entity which embraces one from one’s first step into that space and keeps it for a long time, as a powerful magnet. 

Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

 Idea and Collaboration

The outstanding and fresh in its concept exhibition in Vilnius presenting primarily Marc Chagall’s tapestries and ceramics, with additional works by Picasso and Ernst comes as the second major show of Chagall works in Vilnius within a year. In summer 2023, we were treated to the superb, thorough and very interesting Litvak Artists in Paris exhibition where Chagall’s Universe was sensational. Such two fantastic exhibitions in a row has become the result of a fruitful cooperation of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art with the Chagall’s family, his granddaughters Meret and Bella, and the Chagall Committee. If the previous grand exhibition, Litvak Artists in Paris, presented the works of many Litvak artists, with Chagall works were the epicentre of this unbelievable in richness display, the current exhibition is focused on Chagall, and what’s more, on his works in the techniques in which they are seen the least, perhaps.   Just this fact alone is worthy of a grateful separate note. 

Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

We used to see myriads of ceramics by Picasso, and not necessarily think of Marc Chagall as a creator of ceramics in the first place, despite the fact that Marc Chagall has created more than 350 original and interesting works in ceramics, nor do we see many of his exhibitions where his very beautiful, warm, inventive ceramics are displayed in their own right. 

And this is not to speak about tapestries which in general are quite rare subjects of the exhibitions dedicated to them. If to survey the notable exhibitions of tapestries during the last decade or even two, there are a handful of them, with truly important exhibition of restored Baroque tapestries in Malta in 2017, interesting exhibition of the tapestries based on Dali’s works in New York in 2014, and recent fantastic exhibition of tapestries after Rafael in Vienna in 2023, ended in January this year. 

With regard to the exhibition which is currently on display in Vilnius, the unique set of tapestries and ceramics were born as an exhibition concept, following a special, large, with a great catalogue, exhibition in 2014-2015 commemorating the decade since passing the great weaver-master Yvette Cauquil-Prince at the Museum d’Arte Moderne de Troyes in France. After a fully deserved enthusiastic response to that mile-stone exhibition, it was shown, in a special adaption, at one and only Marc Chagall National Museum in Nice in 2015, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the master’s passing .  Similar exhibition was also shown in Japan, at the Shoto Museum in Tokyo. In Vilnius, the visitors are privileged to see the set of tapestries which was shown at the exhibition in Nice almost a decade ago.  

Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

According to the director general of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art Dr Arunas Gelunas, one of the leading cultural managers in Europe and world, the exhibition in Vilnius ‘is the first one in Northern and Central Europe, and we are very proud to host it lovingly. It was not an easy thing to organise, but despite and after overcoming all the hurdles, we are really grateful and happy to see the eyes of the stream of visitors, whose eyes sparkled with admiration and enthusiasm seeing these rarely exhibited pearls of culture”. 

Additionally to organising a great show, with high professionalism and top expertise, it is important to realise that the Lithuanian National Museum of Art has a very clear concept of organising such truly world-class exhibitions of a remarkable art by a remarkable artists, not as an occasional surprises, but as a very well thought of, organised at the best level and presented highly professionally and innovative line of major cultural events which are enriching not only their country, but bringing a sustainable class of art and culture to a wider region. It is an important mission that requires vision and top skills,  and it engages both the people who are working on it professionally for years, and their grateful public which grows all the time. 

Marc Chagall’s grand-daughters Bella and Meret and director-general of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art Dr Arunas Gelunas at the opening of the Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April 25th, 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

One just needs to see a disarming and disarmed smiles of Marc Chagall’s and Yvette Cauquil-Prince’s families at the current exhibition’s opening in the end of April this year, to get a truly uplifting impression of the happiness of the great masters’ family successors on how this vital for humanity legacy is living and blossoming today. This continuity, this bridge is of an essential importance, as it preserves and develops the forces of good. We all need it always, to keep humanity civilised, but now, we all do need it ten-fold so, having the ugly whirl of hatred and violence encircling Jewish people and our legacy again. 

Darius Hecq-Cauquil’s Exhibition 

In the same building of the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius, in a close proximity to the magnificent  Forest of Dreams in tapestries and ceramics,  there is an additional exhibition, elegantly set Reconnecting With Origins. Co-curated by a well-known Chagall expert Dr Ambre Gautier and Dr Vilma Gradinskaite, the exhibition presents 20 artworks, a tapestry, thirteen oil paintings and six small-sized sculptures created by Darius Hecq-Cauquil,  son of Yvette Cauquil-Prince, who also was graciously present at the opening in Vilnius, and who did contribute to the Chagall – Picasso – Ernst extraordinary exhibition in a very serious way. 

Darius Hecq-Cauquil’s exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

Mess. Hecq-Cauquil’s art indeed refers to the milieu of his family and the great art among which he grew up. Interestingly, one of the works in this collection is a tapestry which was weaved by the artist’s mother, great Yvette Cauquil-Prince, and her vision and work is present there, modern and bold, is  in an interesting dialogue with her great works at the exhibition of her tapestries after the works of Picasso, Ernst and Chagall just nearby. 

Three Counterpoints: Picasso – Ernst – Chagall

The Fears of Picasso’s Minotauruses 

The exhibition itself is built with three counterpoints of it, representing the worlds of Picasso, Ernst and Chagall in the medium of tapestry which adds substantially to our knowledge and perception of the works of these giants of the world art. 

One often can find a comparison of a tapestry as a medium with a music score, very rightly so. At the exhibition constructed in Vilnius, the exposition itself also makes an impression of a partiture. Perhaps, both Yvette Cauquil-Pierce and Marc Chagall’s independent perception of tapestries, which could be found in their both reflections in connection with their visioning of a tapestry as a medium as a visualised music has made this impression on the exhibition’s architect Ula Zebrauskaite – Malinauske, and the exhibition’s really ‘sounds’ as a serious musical score. 

Two large tapestries after works by Pablo Picasso at the Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

In this visual partitura, there are  three powerful, clearly recognisable counterpoints:  two very large works after Picasso on the far left side of the exposition, one large tapestry after Max Ernst’s very well-known work in the centre, and the rest of the large hall of Vilnius  Museum of Applied Art and Design is the feast of Marc Chagall in different sizes and tones. 

Yvette Cauquil-Prince’s tapestries after Picasso’s works in one case is enlarging and in the second work enlightening Picasso’s message and the way he sends it to his viewers. What is striking about the first tapestry, supervised by Yvette Cauquil-Prince as a weaver-master and made almost 60 years after Picasso’s original work was created, is the very large difference of the sizes between the original and the tapestry that was weaved  after it. 

Pablo Picasso. Minotauromachy. Tapestry after work. Head-weaver Yvette Cauquil-Prince. Fragment.  Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Inna Rogatchi. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

 In the beginning of the 1990s, almost twenty years after Picasso’s death, Yvette Cauquil-Prince decided to create a very large tapestry after Picasso’s etching of a rather modest size of 48,75 x 67, 5 cm.  Picasso’s original Minotauromachy, created by the artist in 1935, two years before his Guernica, is a historical work. It is one of just eight known etchings of that series of 50 made by the artists, which are known and survived. The destiny of the rest of it is unknown to this day, and Picasso himself was in darkness about it, very unusual for an artist who followed the whereabouts of his creations meticulously. 

The reason for that  lies in the personal circumstances of the artist. It was a very painful time of his divorce with famous ballerina Olga Khokhlova, increasing uneasiness in relationships with his lover Marie-Therese Walter, and him feeling miserable, with ground moving off his feet, and the world around him perceived as almost total darkness. To the degree that ever-productive and frantically creative Picasso could not work, retreating to writing some poetry  instead of producing anything visual. In the world of Picasso, it meant that he could not breathe. Importantly, according to all experts, the only meaningful work created by the artist in 1935 was this mid-sized etching,  Minotauromachy, which may well be ‘a general rehearsal’ for Guernica in the artist’s inner world at the time. 

Sixty years later, Yvette Cauquil-Prince, who knew Picasso very well and worked with him very closely and successfully in the 1950s and 1960s, decided to create a very large tapestry after the etching, the tapestry which is more than 40 times large that the Picasso’s original. Just think about it. The tapestried interpretation by Yvette Cauquil-Prince of the Picasso’s very strong Minotauromachy is like a process of massive enlarging his strong, graphic symbolic images to a great degree, to make his message in his only notable work of 1935  to ‘sound’ as oratory, if to stay on the wave of the musical comparison regarding the tapestries, which was how Yvette Cauquil-Prince felt. 

She knew precisely what she was weaving in this case and what for, as she knew very well the personal circumstances of Picasso’s life, and she also knew that this work quite possibly might be a precursor of Guernica. Now we all can not only see it, but to feel it as well. 

Next to dark, graphic Minotauruses resolved in brown, grey and black tunes, with white making it all only more tangible, there is a giant tapestry in grey and blue, also supervised by Yvette Cauquil- Prince after very well known Picasso’s work for theatre, which balanced in its light and transparent colours the darkish reminiscence on the same theme of Minotaur, which was of a special fascination for Picasso, and which also grabbed the attention of Yvette Cauquil-Prince since the very beginning of her work after Picasso’s imaginary. What keeps these totally different, if not opposite in colouristic works together at the exhibition in Vilnius, is the theme. 

The Remains of the  Minotaur in Harlequin Costume. Tapestry after Pablo Picasso stage curtain. Head-weaver Yvette Cauiquil-Prince.  Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Inna Rogatchi.   © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

The Remains of the Minotaur in Harlequin Costume is a well-known stage-design work by Picasso, which he produced in 1936 as a curtain for Romen Rolland’s The July 14th play. Nobody ever got the connection between anything related to the French revolution, about which essentially the Rolland’s play is about, and the disturbing stage-curtain for it produced by Picasso, and he never explained any of his thoughts and ideas with this regard. 

Another mystery of this work is that the artist was extremely attached to it, and kept it  in his studio in Paris for thirty years. Just eight years before his passing, Picasso decided to donate it to the city of Toulouse, where it is still today, at the well-known Espace d’Art Moderne and Contemporairn

Unlike the other prototype of Picasso’s tapestry made under Yvette Cauquil-Prince’s supervision, which is exhibited in Vilnius now, the original work by Picasso is giant, of nine metre height and twelve metre wide, so quite atypically, the tapestry made in 1995,  as large as it is, is still twice smaller than Picasso’s original. And if I may note, substantially better than somewhat unhappy, almost desperate Picasso’s stage-curtain original, thanks to the grace of colours which Yvette Cauquil-Prince decided to use for this demanding tapestry, making haunting Picasso’s work more calm and appealing.  

Max Ernst’s Haunting Questions

The first thing which a visitor sees when entering this remarkable exhibition in Vilnius, is a very large, twelve square metres  tapestry, supervised by Yvette Cauquil-Prince after Max Ernst’s very well-known, one of his fundamental works, The Eyes of Silence

Tapestry after Max Ernst’s The Eyes of Silence, head-weaver Yvette Cauqiul-Prince, at the Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

Ms Cauquil-Prince has turned to this Ernst’s silent cry 45 years after the leading German expressionist has produced his work, using quite unusual at the time technique of laying oil on canvas and pressing it by different subjects achieving a special effect of voluminous mass of oil which has become, in the result, as if sculpted metaphorical images on canvas. Max Ernst was a pioneer of this technique, one among several others that he has invented, approaching the way of work of an artist in  a very unorthodox way. 

Ernst produced that work in the US, being deeply traumatised by his run for life from the occupied Paris just two years earlier, with two arrests shortly before that, first by the French as a German national in the beginning of the WWII, and then by the Nazis as their enemy and the husband of the Jewish German woman, the mother of his son, Luise Straus, who was eventually sent to the Auschwitz, quite late in the war, in July 1944, in one of the last transports. 

Luise Straus – Ernst. (C) Public Archive, Cologne, Germany . Open for the publication. With kind permission.

Luise was arrested in April 1944 in southern France, was sent to Drancy, before ending on that fatal way to Auschwitz. She was sent there just ten days after similar, one of the last transports from Drancy to Auschwitz , took away my great-aunt, famous violinist Alma Rose, herself a niece of Gustav Mahler.  

During my ongoing research on my family and the Mahler-Rose-Bujanover musical dynasty, it has been established that Luise Straus, who was a well known art historian, artist and writer, spent two and half months in spring 1944 together with Alma Rose.

Alma Rose. (C) The Rose family archive.

We also know that some friends and close people, including Max Ernst, desperately tried to save the both talented and famous women, in vain. Luise Straus and Max Ernst’s son Jimmy, who was saved solely due to the fact that his mother took care to send him to the US in time, back in 1938, when he was 18 years old, in his memoir wrote that he did not know about the tragic death of his mom in Auschwitz for some while. 

The rich, deep tapestry that Yvette Cauquil-Prince supervised after dramatic Max Ernst’s work differs colouristically from the original, as practically all Yvette Cauquil-Prince’s tapestries are in comparison with the originals that they made after. It was her way of expressing her personal creativity and vision. In the case of the tapestry after Max Ernst’s classic, as in the case with one of Picasso’s tapestries exhibited  in Vilnius, it actually adds to the original works in the best possible way. It is not coincidentally that the Vilnius exhibition’s curators decided to place the tapestry after Max Ernst’s work in the centre of their exposition, also given the fact that it was just one work after the originals by Ernst presented there. 

 

Tapestry after Max Ernst’s The Eyes of Silence, head-weaver Yvette Cauqiul-Prince,  at the Chagall – Picasso-Ernst Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Art and Design in Vilnius.  Fragment. April – September 2024. Photo © Gintare Grigenaite. © The Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

Part 2 focusing on Marc Chagall’s works at the new exhibition in Vilnius, follows.

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is author of War & Humanity special project originated in the aftermath of the October 7th, 2023 massacre in Israel. Inna is internationally acclaimed public figure, writer, scholar, artist, art curator and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal: The Lessons of Survival and other important documentaries on modern history. She is an expert on public diplomacy and was a long-term international affairs adviser for the Members of the European Parliament. She lectures on the topics of international politics and public diplomacy widely. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, arts, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is also the author of Culture for Humanity concept of The Rogatchi Foundation global initiative that aims to provide psychological comfort to wide audiences by the means of high-class arts and culture in challenging times. Inna is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Her family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Together with her husband, Inna is a founding member of Music, Art and Memory international cultural educational and commemorative initiative with a multiply projects in several countries. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, arts and culture, history, Holocaust and post-Holocaust. She is author of several projects on artistic and intellectual studies on various aspect of the Torah and Jewish spiritual heritage. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi was the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association and is member of the International Advisory Board of The Rumbula Memorial Project ( USA). Her art can be seen at Silver Strings: Inna Rogatchi Art site - www.innarogatchiart.com
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