Chaim Soutine Хаим Соломонович Сутин (1893-1943)
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Born in 1893 in provincial Russia in what is now Belarus, Chaim Soutine overcame his family’s opposition to an artistic career. He moved to Vilnius to attend the local school of fine arts. At 20 he moved to Paris to further his studies. The impact of this traditional art education is clearly evident in all his work; in spite of the twist (literally) that he gave it.
In Paris Soutine became associated with a circle of young, impecunious artists, not least Modigliani (who painted Soutine’s portrait in 1917). His work is usually described as Expressionist, owing much to Van Gogh, and is indeed characterized by a free, ebullient brush and considerable distortion of perspective. He never strayed far from his academic roots however, either in subject or in style. During this time, he kept a carcass in his studio, much to his neighbor’s dismay, in order to paint his still life “Carcass of Beef.”
Soutine is a far more conventional painter than is usually thought. Portraits, landscapes and still lives make up the bulk of his work, each owing much to classical tradition. He sought however to wring the essence out of subjects both animate and inanimate by an aggressive approach. He often succeeds. Soutine’s “distorted” portraits are powerful and evocative. Francis Bacon and William Dobell owe much to his influence. Many of these portraits, and his other works as well, are signed with his distinctive “Soutine” in red paint on the bottom of his canvases.
Soutine painted many portraits during his career, particularly of women, in a style that was all his own. He was obsessed with color and form, which often led him to become dissatisfied and depressed. As a result, Soutine destroyed many of his paintings from 1920-1929. How many of these paintings, during a decade of depression were lost? How many actually survived? It may never be known. Soutine also did not exhibit his work often during his lifetime; however, he did take part in an Independent Art exhibition in Paris in 1937 where he was finally hailed as a great painter.
As a Jew in occupied France, Soutine had to hide from the Nazis and Vichy French collaborators. Suffering from a stomach ulcer, he died in 1943 after a botched abdominal operation. He gained wide recognition only in the late 30’s, although American collector Arthur Barnes “discovered” him in the early 1920’s. Soutine is rightly regarded today as a modern master.
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