Magician of Color, Chagall in Seoul

Written by on February 18, 2011 in Arts

Snow falls on Chagall’s village, in March.

At the temple of a man looking forward to spring,

a new vein


-From “The Snow Falling on Chagall’s Village” by Kim Chun Su –  

I first learned of Chagall not through art but through poetry. Kim Chun Su  figured prominently in my anthology of Korean poetry, a book that I had worn down to a dingy bundle of paper by the time I hit my teens, and he was taught and discussed in Korean literature class at school.

The mention of Chagall in his poem was intriguing. We were taught that the poem referred to a painting, but the teacher’s explanation was vague. “It is a village in Russia, where Chagall is from. Of course it snows a lot there.”

Russia. It was called the Soviet Union back then. The village that I conjured up in my mind was sad and bleak, the snow falling upon it melancholy. A painting of muted monotones, I thought.

The first time I had a close look of Chagall’s paintings was when I received a postcard set of his Biblical works as a gift. Imagine my surprise when I discovered his use of color.

I still have the set with a couple of the cards. Note the price in the circle: 1,000 won for 16 cards! (This was in the 80s, now you’ll probably get one for that price.)

There was a colorful joy in his paintings that I didn’t expect. There was something about his work that reminded me of Raoul Dufy, although Chagall’s paintings carry much more gravity and “seriousness” and after seeing his work up close at the Marc Chagall Museum in Nice, France, I decided that I was an official fan of Chagall and that was that.

Seoul Museum of Art is holding a Chagall exhibition until March 27th, 2011 with an extensive selection of his work ranging from his early days in Russia to his last days in France.

In order to go to the museum, you follow the road along the stone walls of the royal palace Deoksugung.

The museum shows up the left. This photo was taken during the summer, when the Renoir exhibition was on. A lot of big name exhibitions are held here.

In warmer seasons, children play in the water fountains of the roundabout in front of the museum.

Chagall’s flying couple grace the building’s façade.

The main exhibit halls start on the second floor. People take the obligatory “I was here” photo on the first with the mural as a backdrop.

You can rent audio guides or either join the guided tours with a docent. I like to go over exhibitions alone first to not cloud my initial gut reaction and then get additional information afterwards. The docent that I followed was eloquent, polite, and extremely tolerant of the boisterous crowd.

The exhibition really takes a comprehensive look at Chagall’s work through the ages. Besides his Biblical works with which I was the most familiar, paintings of his Russian villages (as in Kim Chun Su’s poem) and loving couples, his colorful circus series, and illustrations for various literary works are all on display. Most impressive is also the showing of Decoration of the Jewish Theatre (1920), a composition of huge paintings that adorned the walls of the Jewish Theatre in Moscow.

I spent four hours at the exhibit looking at the paintings over and over again, marveling over Chagall’s use of color and texture, staring at the expressions of the people in the paintings, trying to catch details that I had missed before, looking at the people looking at the artwork while sitting and resting. I wanted to stay longer but had to leave for an appointment.

If I had more time, I would have hung out at the café overlooking the entrance hall. Great for weary feet and need for caffeine.

For those who need souvenirs and more artsy things about Chagall, the art shop! There is another shop on the first floor for non-exhibition related products as well.



  • Magician of Color Chagall at the Seoul Museum of Art
  • Open : Dec 3, 2010 ~ Mar 27, 2011 (Tue – Sat 10:00 ~ 21:00, Sun & Holidays 10:00~20:00)
  • Closed on Mondays
  • Admission :
  • Adults (age 19~64) : 12,000 won
  • Teens (age 13~18) : 10,000 won
  • Children (age 7~12) : 8,000 won
  • Discount rates for groups, young children, and seniors over 65
  • Special 2,000 won discount night rate from 18:00
  •  Transportation : Metro station Seoul City Hall (line 1, exit #1 or line 2 exits #11 or #12). Walk towards Deoksu Palace and follow the stone wall road to the left of the palace
  • Tel : 1577-8968

About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul