AMSTERDAM -- For much of Russian-French Modernist painter Marc Chagall's life, which took him from a tiny village in rural Russia to St. Petersburg, Paris and New York, he remained remarkably faithful to eight pigments in his colorful works, according to new research unveiled Friday at Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum.
Experts at the museum spent five years minutely studying nine paintings by the artist, who blended modernist styles such as Cubism and Fauvism in works on surfaces ranging from traditional canvases to ceramics, stained windows, an opera house ceiling and even a tablecloth.
"One of the things that struck me really was that he's so consistent in the materials that he used. Eight pigments that he used these 35 years," said Paintings conservator Meta Chavannes. "That's quite striking I think even though he moved around so much."
And while Chagall's paintings, infused with folk references and surreal touches, can appear whimsical, Chavannes said he was guided at times by the material he painted on, including a checkered tablecloth for one of his most famous works, "The Fiddler."
"One of the things that was really interesting was ... to find out how pragmatic he was," Chavanne said. "Using this tablecloth, this grid pattern and filling in the checks. ... They're not particularly figurative, they don't tell the story, but he obviously felt compelled to fill in those shapes."
A technique using infrared light to peer through the surface paint layers revealed that the canvas used for "The Synagogue at Safad, Israel" has a different scene underneath the paint.
If the painting is turned a quarter, the drawing underneath bears striking similarities to another Chagall painting, "Ida at the Window," a portrait of the artist's daughter.
The museum says the results of the research will be of value to art historians and conservators around the world who may want to restore the 20th century artist's works.
Eight of the museum's nine Chagall paintings will be included in an exhibition opening Sept. 21 titled "Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian and others: Migrants in Paris.