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Tumultuous, prolific, innovative - that's how critics describe Marc Chagall's best years, an era marked by world war, revolution, and the rise of Soviet Communism that pushed him into exile in France.

A major exhibition of 200 works executed between 1907 and 1922, including 70 paintings, opened last month to rave reviews at Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris). It closes Sept. 17.

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Touted as one of the season's must-see shows, the exhibition features, for the first time in France, decorative panels Chagall designed for the Theater of Jewish Art in Moscow.

Executed in 1921 for a Yiddish theater, the monumental frescoes (22 feet wide) combine Chagall's favorite Jewish motifs to create a whimsical vision of theater that challenged stereotypes of the past.

The unsigned panels disappeared in 1922 and were believed lost. The ceiling and curtain probably were destroyed, but the panels simply were rolled up when the theater moved to larger quarters. In 1937, they were hidden under the stage floor and thus survived a series of destructive anti-Semitic campaigns.

In 1950, the panels were secretly transferred to a Moscow gallery and remained hidden until 1973, when Chagall sign ed them on a trip to Russia.

Chickens, musicians, a goat, a rabbi, Chagall's wife, Bella, and daughter, Ida, share space with an upside-down cow, a broken violin, and a man doing handstands.

The panels are Chagall's last project completed in Russia. After the Bolshevik Revolution, he was named fine-arts commissioner for the Vitebsk region, but was forced to resign when his attempts to liberalize art teaching were rejected.

Soon after completing the panels, Chagall permanently left Russia to settle in France.

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Chagall died in southern France in 1985 at age 98.

Other paintings on display include a dreamy 1917 portrait of his wife, whose fine-featured, dark beauty was to symbolize femininity throughout Chagall's long career.

Chagall's work is permeated with humor and a fanciful juxtaposition of images from his childhood in the Jewish ghetto.There are numerous paintings and drawings inspired by his family - his sister, his mother in her shop and in the kitchen, Bella and Ida - and celebrations of major Jewish holidays.

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