Chaim Soutine, the Ecole de Paris Artist

Soutine settled in Paris in 1911 and stayed at La Ruche, until 1916, in borrowed studios. Like Modigliani, he was a ‘squatter’ but recognized as a talent. His best friends were Modigliani, Chagall, Pinkus Kremengne, Jules Pascin and Michel Kikoine. Later he added Picasso, Cocteau, Max Jacob, and Jacques Lipchitz to his long list of friends. But the death of Modigliani was traumatic for him. They were close and Modi, after all, was so young. To earn a living, Soutine worked in a shop retouching photographs and, for a time, made some money working at the railway station as a porter. As a young art student he had a generous patron who supported him financially but that was before he started painting on his own and began to develop a style in Paris. It is interesting that during WWI, not being a soldier, he dug ditches for the war effort. But Soutine was filled with anguish and appeared as a secretive, haunting wild spirit. His work ran the gamut of chaotic to sensitively beautiful and his personal behavior was a reflection of inner torment that failed to bring him inner peace. Yet, he painted contorted poultry, eerie animal carcasses sketched at the nearby slaughterhouse at La Villette, gnarled trees and young girls that always showed a great complexity. Often he would tear up his paintings only to spend hours trying to piece them together again. At times he would bring large carcasses to his studio to paint. They would hang for days until the sanitary officials had to be called in by the neighbors who could no longer put up with the stench. But what he had produced was what he had gained from Rainbrandt’s paintings of meat. Soutine’s Carcass of an Ox was the painting of a carcass, split in half and hung by its legs against a blue green background. The colors are splendid. As they changed with the rotting colors, he would pour fresh blood over the carcass. He had to stop as people began to shy away from him. In 1920 he did manage to sell one hundred of his works to the American collector Dr. Barnes. He continued to paint landscapes that were truly masterpieces. In 1928 his Big Choirboy was sold for 30,000 francs. By 1937 his work was exhibited at the Independent Art show. He finally received the recognition due to him. Soutine rented his first apartment at 35, rue du Parc-Montsouris and a studio on rue Saint-Gothard near Denfert-Rochereau. He later lived at 18, villa Seurat and spent summers at Leves near Chartres. There he painted from a clean palette with almost new brushes and special pigments ordered from all over the world. For canvass he would use non-reinforced 17th century material he’d find at flea markets. He was a special friend to Marevna Vorobiev, also a Russian painter and ex-lover of the Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. She and Soutine were drawn together by their mutual love of nature and their ability to see fantastic shapes in everything. They both found inspiration in childhood memories. He spent many months working at Ceret near the Spanish border. Here, he gained force and certainty. He evolved the basic style which he was to use for the rest of his life. For him, it was a quiet haven and a mysterious temple. Ceret gave him an unforgettable experience. His imagination ran free. He began to paint with an inner, supernatural force and when in Paris, he often visited the Louvre to admire the Rembrandts that he said were so beautiful, they drove him to madness. He would take a train to Amsterdam just to see Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride. He was an eccentric man and had a slovenly appearance, but he was a visionary who used brilliant colors and, like Van Gogh, aggressive brushstrokes. Soutine was called an expressionist with abstract leanings, but he loved nature too much to totally embrace the abstract completely. As a young boy he had bitter arguments with his father. He would run away to a herdsman’s hut with nothing but a piece of bread and an onion. He would spend hours in the forest listening and watching. He watched the changing colors while the sun set. He sat there deriving a great benefit from his quiet observation. He loved painting forests, trees, foliage and branches. His early pictures are alive. Soutine fled Paris when the Nazis arrived and hid in the countryside taking shelter in forests to avoid capture. He suffered from epileptic fits and a bleeding ulcer and was forced to turn away from safety to undergo an operation. Almost immediately afterwards he died. It was only days before Paris was liberated. His funeral was attended by Picasso, and Jean Cocteau. He had been persecuted all his life but after his death he was lionized and his work was sought after. It is no exaggeration to say he was always a vagabond; The Wandering Jew. He couldn’t stay in one place very long without becoming nervous. He traveled all over France, seeking inspiration, but never forgot his Jewish/Lithuanian roots. He grew to love Paris and died there at the war’s end.  He loved drinking wine or tea in the company of friends. He talked and smoked but the talk was mostly about art. He needed the art he was wedded to, but most of all, he needed friendship. Double Deception…
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