Artist Buried in Hilltop Cemetery
ST. PAUL DE VENCE, France (AP) _ Hundreds of mourners poured into this tiny Provencal village Monday to pay their last respects to Marc Chagall, the Russian-born artist who died in his villa here at the age of 97.
Besides Chagall’s widow, Valentina, his daughter, Ida, and three grandchildren, there were about 500 people on hand for the funeral held under sunny skies in the tree-lined cemetery.
Only family members and close friends were allowed at the graveside.
Chagall had been active until the last few weeks, his widow told reporters. Dressed in black, her gray hair pulled back in a bun, Mrs. Chagall was pale but composed. At the 10-minute graveside ceremony she was flanked by her grandchildren Maret and Piet, who wept openly. A third grandchild, Bella, also was there.
French officials present included Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and Culture Minister Jack Lang, who spoke briefly at the cemetery entrance, on the edge of this walled town that was once a medieval fortress.
″This is a day of mourning, but as long as the sun continues to shine, the light of Marc Chagall will not go out,″ Lang said.
He also said France, Chagall’s adopted country since 1937, would pay special tribute to the artist who delighted millions all over the world with his light-filled paintings peopled with entranced lovers, animals and childhood scenes from his native Vitebsk.
Lang said an evening at the Paris Opera with Mstislav Rostropovich and a few artists was being planned in Chagall’s honor in the next few days.
Mrs. Chagall was embraced by Jacqueline Picasso, wife of the late Pablo Picasso, and the two spoke for several minutes inside Mrs. Chagall’s chauffered car. Other mourners included French sculptor Cesar, Pierre Matisse, son of the late painter Henri Matisse, Pierre Prevert, brother of poet Jacques Prevert, and art critic Andre Verde.
As the funeral procession took Chagall through his beloved village for the last time, townspeople followed, joined by tourists and photographers jostling for position.
He was buried temporarily in the family tomb of Marius Issert, mayor of St. Paul de Vence who is a close family friend. Chagall’s body will be transferred to his own tomb in a few months when it is ready, funeral home officials said.
Also at the non-religious service was Israel’s ambassador to France, Ovadia Soffer. He told The Associated Press that Chagall was a special friend to Israel.
″His work was infused with Judaism, humanity and the statehood of Israel,″ Soffer said after the ceremony. ″The two murals at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) are very important for Israel because one has the dove, the symbol of peace, and the other has the candelabra, which is the symbol of faith.″