Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons in Chicago – His largest mosaic work

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Marc Chagall – Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Four Seasons, Chicago, Illinois (CC BY-SA 2.0) Ken Lund

Introduction

Chicago is a bustling city with numerous buildings. In the midst of all the bustle is one magnificent landmark: Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons mosaic.

Located in front of the Chase Tower Plaza, the mosaic spans over a 70-feet (21-meter) length and wraps around a rectangular support. In its dazzling display, themes of nature emerge from the imagery of animals and figures amid the lush colors.

Plan & construction

What makes Four Seasons even more dramatic as a public art treasure is the dedication with which Marc Chagall showed in crafting this intricate masterpiece. It is composed of thousands of inlaid chips. These chips feature over 250 vibrant colors, making the masterpiece one of the most colorful public art displays. During construction, Chagall brought over to Chicago stones from all over the world through his studio in France.

The eastern side of Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The eastern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 160 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy
The eastern side of Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The eastern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 161 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy

Marbles were gathered from places such as Belgium and Italy. Chagall also sourced granites from Norway and Brittany, brick stones from Chicago, green stones from the mines of Solomon and finally, from Paris and Venice, he got exquisite stained glass. Based on a model of the rectangular box in Chicago, he used all these materials to make about 128 panels in his studio, which were then transported via sea and air to Chicago.

The eastern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The eastern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall mosaic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) jsutcℓiffe

The installation process was lengthy, taking Chagall’s craftsmen Michel Tharin and Alain Devy months to join and install the panels outside Chase Tower Plaza. Chagall came in to oversee the finalization of the mosaic and commission it, finally dedicating it to the people of Chicago on the 27th of September, 1974.

The Northern side of Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The northern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Marc Chagall – Four Seasons Mural – Firs (CC BY 2.0) jay galvin

Why ‘Four Seasons’?

Aside from the stones and glass that make up Four Seasons, the installation displays Chicago motifs. The mosaic is in six scenes around a rectangular four sides, measuring 21 meter long by 3 meter wide and rising to a height of 4.3 meter. Chagall didn’t forget to sign his artwork. If you look closely, you can discover his signature six times in the entire piece.

Signature of Marc Chagall in Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Signature of Marc Chagall in Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 167 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy

The Chicago scenes displayed on the rectangular mosaic show the state in every season. For instance, the winter scene is a depiction of a mother lovingly cradling her toddler on her lap, while the spring season shows a young lady dancing joyously. On the other hand, summer in Chicago is portrayed as Chicagoans having a beautiful picnic underneath sunshine. Finally, autumn is a depiction of a harvest.

Mother with toddler on her lap in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Mother with toddler on her lap in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 171 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy
Musicians and dancing lady in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Musicians and dancing lady in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall: musicians and dancer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) yooperann
Summer scene in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Summer scene in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Detail from Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons (CC BY-NC 2.0) UGArdener

Besides the ‘Chicago in every season’ scenes, there are also numerous other motifs associated with the state, such as a Ferris wheel depicting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition’s spinning centerpiece and a cow in a stockyard.

Ferris wheel depicting the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and Chicago's skyline in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Ferris wheel depicting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and Chicago’s skyline in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 164 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy

He depicted all these using his ‘floating’ figures technique as a way of adding a surreal feel to the scenes. Other imagery in the mosaic piece includes birds, flowers, sun, fish, lovers and the sky, which seek to reference simple village life as well as city skylines.

Lovers, the Sun & the American Dream in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Lovers, the Sun & the American Dream in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Marc Chagall, The Four Seasons, Chicago (CC BY 2.0) Sharon Mollerus
The Arrival of Spring in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The Arrival of Spring in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall, Four Seasons, Chicago (CC BY 2.0) Sharon Mollerus

Speaking about the artwork in the 1974 documentary The Gift: Four Seasons Mosaic of Marc Chagall1 (see below), the artist said:

I chose the theme of the four seasons because I believe there will be many people going through this plaza in the heart of the city of Chicago. In my mind, the four seasons represent human life, both physical and spiritual, at its different stages. I hope that the people of Chicago will feel the same emotion that I felt when doing this work.

Needless to say that this unique work is not only art for art’s sake but also a symbolic and literal depiction of the state of Chicago, which gives locals a sense of belonging while displaying some aspects of Chicago to visitors who are curious about it.

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Marc Chagall – Four Seasons (detail), 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall, Four Seasons, Chicago (CC BY 2.0) Sharon Mollerus

Vandalism & protection

Initially, the installation was not sheltered from weather elements. However, in 1994, the city of Chicago installed a protective glass canopy after the mosaic panels were restored over a period of two years.

Detail of Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Detail of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall mosaic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) jsutcℓiffe

To maintain this intricate public art installation, a maintenance schedule was created. Today, the mosaic is inspected four times a day for graffiti, cleaned annually and undergoes major restoration every five years. Ken Bartman, building and grounds manager of Chase Tower, admitted2 that the artwork “periodically” gets vandalized. However, according to him, it is “not as common as you might think”, thanks to a surveillance system.

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons (detail), 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Marc Chagall – Four Seasons (detail), 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Detail from Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons (CC BY-NC 2.0) UGArdener

Not only is the mosaic great to look at but also, it forms a great environment for people to sit down and enjoy the view. With granite benches surrounding it, visitors can have a rest and snack as they admire the mosaic, making it a colorful picnic site.

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The western side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons Mosaic in Ch (CC BY-NC 2.0) UGArdener

Location

Address: 10 S Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60603, USA

Hours: 24/7

More iconic sculptures in Chicago

Chicago is home to more impressive sculptures, the major ones all conveniently within walking distance, located in The Loop, Chicago’s CBD. In 1967, the Chicago Picasso3 was installed two hundred meters away from Four Seasons at Daley Plaza. One month after Chagall, Alexander Calder’s 35-ton steel sculpture Flamingo got unveiled in the Federal Plaza.

Alexander Calder - Flamingo, 1974, installation view, Federal Plaza, Chicago
Alexander Calder – Flamingo, 1974, installation view, Federal Plaza, Chicago, photo: Alexander Calder: Flamingo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) jpellgen (@1179_jp)

Joan Miró’s Chicago was installed in 1981 in Brunswick Plaza, again in close proximity. Jean Dubuffet’s monumental Monument with Standing Beast was installed in 1984. Just a few blocks away, you can find Anish Kapoor’s most iconic work, Cloud Gate (2006), also commonly known as The Bean and Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain4.

Jaume Plensa - Crown Fountain, 2004, installation view, Millennium Park, Chicago
Jaume Plensa – Crown Fountain, 2004, installation view, Millennium Park, Chicago, photo: Chicago 077 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy

About Marc Chagall

Born in 1887, Chagall had an impressive career. However, he had a difficult childhood as he was born in near poverty in Russian Empire’s Belarus. At 24 years, Chagall fled Belarus to enter Paris. Later, he lived in the United States during World War II and here, he became an influential Modernist artist. Chagall drew inspiration from Picasso’s Cubism and the Fauvism movement by Matisse to create his art.

He also infused his art with Jewish elements, clearly coming out in the rectangular box mosaic. Besides being a renowned painter, Chagall was also a creator of ceramics and stained glass. One of his best-known works dealing with ceramics, stones and stained glass is, of course, Four Seasons.

Marc Chagall - The Four Seasons, 1974, lithograph printed in colors, 90 x 60,6 cm
Marc Chagall – The Four Seasons, 1974, lithograph printed in colors, 90 x 60,6 cm, image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

While Chagall has created several large-scale mosaics, including for the Knesset in Jerusalem, his museum in Nice and the University of Nice, Four Seasons is not only one of his last but also one of his most beautiful and impressive mosaics.

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Marc Chagall – Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Marc Chagal: The Four Seasons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) unbearable lightness

More by Marc Chagall

Footnotes

  1. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0480393/
  2. https://chicago.suntimes.com/murals-mosaics/2019/11/8/20952413/chagall-mosaic-four-seasons-downtown-chicago-murals-quatre-saisons-loop-chase-tower
  3. https://publicdelivery.org/pablo-picasso-chicago/
  4. https://publicdelivery.org/jaume-plensa-crown-fountain/

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