Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943), Belarus
Soutine's first contacts with art were forbidden and reprimanded. Having grown up in a village dominated by the Judaic rule that the representation of the human figure was not allowed, the young Soutine was punished for having painted a portrait of an old man. As compensation, he received fifteen roubles, which enabled him to enter the Vilnius School of Fine Arts and meet the artists Kikoïne and Krémègne.
In 1912, Soutine joined his artist friends from Vilnius in the French capital and founded a studio at La Ruche, a place favourable to exchanges with other artists such as Chagall, Zadkine, Kisling, Miestchaninoff and Laurens. Soutine studied with Fernand Cormon at the École des Beaux-Arts and regularly went to the Louvre to admire masterpieces by Rembrandt, Courbet and Chardin.
Discharged from the army during the First World War on account of his fragile health, Soutine moved to Cité Falguière and initially shared the studio of the sculptor Miestchaninoff. It was also during this period that Soutine painted the famous artwork depicting the studio at no. 11 Cité Falguière. (Chaïm Soutine, L’Atelier de la Cité Falguière, 1915-16) In 1915, through Jacques Lipchitz, he met Amedeo Modigliani, with whom he would have a close friendship. Madeleine Castaing, a patron and a friend of Soutine, explained that "Modigliani admired Soutine as a painter; he used to say 'it's amazing what this man will do'. When Modigliani died, Soutine was completely distraught. Modigliani, who shared his studio in the Cité Falguière with Soutine, believed in his companion's talent and gave him considerable support, introducing him to the art dealer Léopold Zborowski, who bought Soutine's work for five francs a day. At this time, the artist painted mainly still lifes in flamboyant colours in an expressionist style. (Chaïm Soutine, Glaïeuls, 1919)
In this shared studio, Soutine also met Kiki de Montparnasse, when she asked him to take her and her friend into his home, one winter’s evening. In her autobiography, Kiki de Montparnasse relates that the artist burned furniture to feed the fire so that the two women could keep warm. This act of camaraderie was the starting point of a lasting friendship between the painter and the model.
From 1918 to 1922, Soutine lived between Cagnes on the Côte d'Azur and Céret in the Pyrénées-Orientales. Eternally dissatisfied, the painter destroyed most of the paintings he had done on his return to Paris.
In 1923, the famous American collector Albert C. Barnes discovered Soutine's work at the Paul Guillaume gallery and bought around thirty landscapes and portraits. While seeing his artistic recognition take shape, the artist enjoyed unprecedented material security. In the 1930s, Soutine met the Castaing couple, who became his patrons. In 1938, the artist moved to the Villa Seurat, near the studio of his friend Chana Orloff, before illness took his life in 1943.
Soutine, around 1935,
image source: Le musée d’Art moderne de Céret
Chaïm Soutine, Glaïeuls, 1919,
huile sur toile, 56 x 46 cm,
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, © RMN-Grand Palais