Chagall's pieces consist of a complex range of images that draw from the Bible, circus imagery, and L-O-V-E. The show includes about 65 paintings and 88 works on paper, created between 1907 and 1970, many quite rare. Chagall was, in some ways, an outsider in the modern-art world: Though he certainly drew from cubism and surrealism, he consistently refused to be identified with any particular movement. He often painted in strong primary and secondary colors, depicting fractured torsos and bodies, humans floating above Eastern European shtetls, and recurring animal and religious images. His rarely seen Lovers in the Red Sky, for example, is a gorgeous example of his romantic style, showing a body with two heads wafting over a red village that suggests his own hometown of Vitsyebsk (now in Belarus). The jarring White Crucifixion depicts a whitewashed painting of Jesus on the cross surrounded by Sabbath candles, burning houses, and synagogues, while red-flagged armies charge. Rooster pays homage to a man deeply in love with a human-size pet.
Also on display are striking murals and sets Chagall created for the Jewish Theatre in Moscow during the earlier part of his career. Later on, he became fascinated with the circus, which he once referred to as "a centuries-old entertainment parading before us, in which a tear, a smile, a gesture of arm or leg takes on the quality of great art." This is equally descriptive of the painter's own profound legacy.