Reaching out for the past with Marc Chagall

IDA/VIRU #maitseseiklus Narva hotell
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The restaurant of ’Narva’ hotel is named after Marc Chagall. It is not sucked out of the pen but emphasizes the connection of the world-famous artist with the small Estonian town.

One of the most famous artists of the 20th century stayed in Narva and even painted there. The contact of Chagall of Belarusian Jewish origin with the Estonian border town was fleeting, but the people of Narva would have sinned to keep it to themselves.

Narva inspired to paint

The artist was in Narva at the age of 21 or 22 in 1909 or 1910 during his studies in St. Petersburg.

„Art historians do not know for sure whether Chagall visited Narva once or twice. Anyway, Marc Chagall arrived in Narva at the invitation of his patron, the St. Petersburg lawyer Grigory Goldberg. The latter accommodated him in the property of his mother-in-law, the estate of Ferdinadshof (Sivertsy) owned by the Petersburg and Narva timber merchant Naum Hermont“, writes a historian, member of the Riigikogu Katri Raik in her unfinished book about Narva, the sketches of which she generously shared with us.

 In his book of memoirs „My life“, Marc Chagall himself wrote: „In the spring, he [G. A. Goldberg] took me to his estate near Narva; I remember the spacious rooms, the shady trees on the seashore, and the lovely women: the lawyer’s wife and her sister Hermont.“ Narva is also mentioned in the young man’s recollections: „Because this dacha is located in its primeval state far from a truly beautiful city.“” 

It is known that in Narva the artist painted many sketches, as well as several paintings, such as „My room in Narva“ and „My Studio in Narva“.

„Sometimes the manor by the river failed to impress the young artist, but he did not skimp on kind words to the daughter of the owner of the house, Bela, whom he calls in the same memoirs as „interesting and devoid of provincialism.“ Later art historians retold in their own words a beautiful love story of young people, and they believe that the „Portrait of the artist’s sister“ (1909) actually depicts Bela Hermont. Anyone who wants to see a masterpiece with the alleged Narva’s beauty should go to the Pompidou Center in Paris,“ Katri Raik shares valuable details. 

Power of the Georgian dance

The foundation of the summer mansion, which hosted Chagall, was sought about ten years ago by the historian Tanel Mazur, who works as a teacher at the Narva Estonian Gymnasium and holds the position of pharmacist in the North Courtyard of the Narva Fortress during the summer. For a short time, the place of the summer manor by the Narva – Narva-Jõesuu road was also marked.

Tanel Mazur recollects one colorful episode about Hotel Narva’s restaurant, named after Chagall: 

„The Georgian male choir ’Tbilisi’ with dancers arrived in Estonia. Since Narva Museum has made long-term Schengen visas for them, the Georgians gave their first concert as part of the tour in Narva. The night before, an official thank-you event was held in the restaurant of the Narva hotel. Andres Toode, who was then Director of the Museum, fell ill and had to stay in bed, so I had to work that evening for Andres. Singers sang, dancers danced. After dancing with swords, the suspended ceiling of the restaurant was full of holes from those swords.“

True, it happened before the restaurant was renamed Chagall, so it is no longer worth looking for holes in the ceiling.

Restaurant M.Chagall in Narva hotel

 The city authorities of Narva were also prone to put the glory of Chagall at the service of their native city. Thus, the city planned to open a Chagall center and a theme park next to the ’Rogodiv’ house of culture. There are also plans to exhibit Chagall’s work in Narva.

But so far the city has not succeeded in moving in this direction, and in 2014 the real step was made by the ’Narva’ hotel, where after renovation the restaurant was decorated with reproductions of Marc Chagall. This inspired the chefs to work in the best European traditions. And, of course, the menu must include lampreys as a local delicacy.

Unrivalled location and views 

In practical terms, guests of Narva should know that the hotel is located in the heart of the city, close to the railway station and bus station, within walking distance of the Narva castle and the river. Some rooms offer a magnificent view of the ancient monuments – the bastions of the Northern war and the two opposite fortresses, the place of residence of one of which is in Estonia, the second is on the territory of Russia. The promenade along the river is spread before the eyes and beckons to walk.

The history of the hotel building is also remarkable: the building was built in 1959 as a hotel, so it has been hosting guests for over 60 years.

Restaurant M.Chagall in Narva hotel

According to old residents of Narva, in the first years of its existence, the hotel was one of the centers of urban life. On the ground floor there was a hairdresser salon, a clothing store, a buffet, a restaurant, and a reception desk. A duty attendant, whose job was to make sure that no strangers entered the rooms was sitting on each floor. Now residents of the hotel do not need to be afraid of the sharp eyes of the administrator, and they can feel quite comfortable in the room.

The hotel has been refurbished and rebuilt several times to better meet the expectations of visitors today. Recently, the banquet hall was opened, the conference hall was renovated and equipped with the latest technology.

Next, there are plans to use an empty hotel outbuilding, which should include a water and sauna center, a wellness center, a restaurant, a café, a conference center and rooms that will add as much to the 100-bed hotel today. This is how the Narva Hotel will grow into the largest in the city.


Journalist for ’Põhjarannik’ newspaper 

„The story is written with the support of the EU Regional Development Fund“