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However, after a few months at the school, Chagall realized that academic portrait painting did not suit his desires.
Marc Chagall, 1912, Calvary (Golgotha), oil on canvas, 174.6 × 192.4 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Sold through Galerie Der Sturm (Herwarth Walden), Berlin to Bernhard Koehler (1849–1927), Berlin, 1913.
He soon began copying images from books and found the experience so rewarding he then decided he wanted to become an artist.
He eventually confided to his mother, "I want to be a painter", although she could not yet understand his sudden interest in art or why he would choose a vocation that "seemed so impractical", writes Goodman.
Chagall himself was born of a family steeped in religious life; his parents were observant Hasidic Jews who found spiritual satisfaction in a life defined by their faith and organized by prayer.
In Russia at that time, Jewish children were not allowed to attend regular Russian schools or universities.
An early modernist, he was associated with several major artistic styles and created works in virtually every artistic format, including painting, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramic, tapestries and fine art prints.
Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century" (though Chagall saw his work as "not the dream of one people but of all humanity"). Lewis, Chagall was considered to be "the last survivor of the first generation of European modernists".
On his return he made ready the samovar, drank some tea and went to work. This caused the creation of Jewish market-villages (shtetls) throughout today's Eastern Europe, with their own markets, schools, hospitals, and other community institutions.
Chagall would later say that there was no art of any kind in his family's home and the concept was totally alien to him.
When Chagall asked the schoolmate how he learned to draw, his friend replied, "Go and find a book in the library, idiot, choose any picture you like, and just copy it".
Chagall would later include fish motifs "out of respect for his father", writes Chagall biographer, Jacob Baal-Teshuva. There was always plenty of butter and cheese on our table.
Chagall wrote of these early years: Day after day, winter and summer, at six o'clock in the morning, my father got up and went off to the synagogue. Buttered bread, like an eternal symbol, was never out of my childish hands.