Remembering Chaïm Soutine, the Belarusian Expressionist painter, on his death anniversary 

Home » Remembering Chaïm Soutine, the Belarusian Expressionist painter, on his death anniversary 

Chaïm Soutine was a Belarusian Expressionist painter who contributed significantly to the development of arts during his short yet eventful life. Born on January 13, 1893, he died on this day, on August 9, 1943. Born in a Jewish family, the tenth of eleven children, he studied art from 1910 to 1913 in Vilnius at a small art academy. He emigrated to Paris in 1913 and began studying at the École des Beaux-Arts under Fernand Cormon. As Soutine lived and worked in Paris, he made many friends and acquaintances in the artistic circles. This active social life was to later boost his career with patrons identifying him and supporting him at various junctures.

Soutine’s distinct style, which lay an emphasis on shape, colour, and texture rather than representation, developed owing to multiple inspirations. He was influenced by classical painting in the European tradition and was particularly in awe of masters such as Rembrandt, Chardin, and Courbet. Soutine’s signature style was to later serve as a bridge between the traditional approaches and the development of Abstract Expressionism.

While he was struggling, Soutine grouped up with his friends to stay at a shelter for struggling artists in Montparnasse. It is here that he became friends with painter Amedeo Modigliani; the latter painted Soutine’s portraits on a number of occasions. A key figure to help Soutine was his art dealer Leopold Zborowski who supported him throughout World War I and ensured his safe passage to Nice in case of a German invasion of Paris. Fortune began shining slowly after the war when a reputed art dealer, Paul Guillaume, took note of Soutine’s work and began talking about it highly. In 1923, in a showing arranged by Guillaume, the prominent American collector Albert C. Barnes, bought 60 of Soutine’s paintings on the spot. Soutine, who was virtually broke at the time, celebrated by taking a taxi straight to Nice, more than 400 miles away.

Soutine flirted with a small controversy when he was experimenting on a series of carcasses, inspired by Rembrandt’s works on the same theme called Slaughtered Ox. Soutine kept the carcass in his studio, presumably for far too long, till the stench repulsed his neighbours and they called the police. Soutine is said to have lectured about the importance of art over hygiene. Soutine painted 10 works in this series, which have since become his most well-known.

Soutine produced the majority of his works from 1920 to 1929. From 1930 to 1935, the interior designer Madeleine Castaing and her husband welcomed him to their summer home, the mansion of Lèves, becoming his patrons, enabling Soutine to hold his first exhibition in Chicago in 1935. While he seldom showed his works, he made an astute exception and participated in the important exhibition The Origins and Development of International Independent Art held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in 1937 in Paris, where he was hailed as a great painter.

Soon after, France was invaded by German troops, and this brought great hardships on Soutine. He had to continuously hide from the Gestapo, often taking shelter in forests. Soon, his health started deteriorating and he suffered from a perforated ulcer which became the cause of his death at the age of 50.

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