Jacques Chapiro (né Yakob Shapiro) was born in Dvinsk in Belarus and started his arts education at the age of ten. He later enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Kharkov (1915), Kiev (1918) and Petrograd (1921). Following the Russian Revolution, having been seduced by the constructivist movement, Chapiro changed course and became more interested in theater direction and design, working for Meyerhold and Stanislawski. By now Chapiro was well-known in Russia, however, due to the potential threat of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Republics, he decided to leave for France, arriving in Paris in 1925. He established himself in La Ruche, a large complex of artist studios in Montparnasse. Previously In 1902, the sculptor Alfred Boucher had restored the Medoc Wine Pavilion on the former site of the 1900 Exposition Universelle and re-opened it as a center of artist studios. It was called La Ruche or “beehive” due to its resemblance to the cylindrical shape of a beehive, and to the “buzzing” activity of its occupants. La Ruche quickly became a thriving center for artists because it offered low rent and availability to free models. When Chapiro arrived at La Ruche, it had already provided a haven for Jewish artists – painters, sculptors and decorators -from Eastern European countries, where the threat of anti-Semitism was on the rise. One can only imagine the friendships and exchange of ideas that peculated in the various studios of the “beehive” as at one time it housed such artists as Fernand Léger, Modigliani, Brancusi, Archipenko, Soutine and Chagall. Chapiro had his studio there until around 1930. During the war and the German occupation, he left Paris for Carpentras in Provence. When the war was over, he travelled to Italy before returning to Paris and settling there permanently.
Chapiro’s passion for his tenure at La Ruche never waned. In 1960, he published a book titled La Ruche, which combined the history of this important artist colony with his own personal recollections. In addition, together with Marc Chagall, Chapiro lobbied to save La Ruche from demolition in 1967. Today, it is classified as a Historic Monument and continues to welcome artists from all over the world. Chapiro died in 1972, having played a major role in preserving such an important chapter in the evolution of modern painting, as well as his own contribution as an artist of innovation and creative energy.