Soutine, Chaim

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

SOUTINE, CHAIM

SOUTINE, CHAIM (1893–1943), Russian-French painter. Soutine was born at Smilovitchi in Lithuania, the tenth of eleven children of a poor tailor. Chaim was interested in nothing but drawing, and at the age of fourteen he ran away, first to Minsk, then to Vilna, where he enrolled at the School of Fine Arts. Attending school during the day, Soutine worked at night. In 1913, a physician who appreciated his talent provided him with money to go to Paris. There he met Amedeo *Modigliani, nine years his senior, who tried to help him. At one time, he and Modigliani shared a garret in Montmartre that contained only one cot, on which they took turns sleeping. To make a living, Soutine copied old masters at the Louvre, worked as a porter at a railroad station, or as a ditch digger. Overcome by despair, he once tried to commit suicide. His situation improved after the dying Modigliani recommended him to his art dealer. Thanks to the dealer's efforts, the American art collector, Albert C. Barnes, visited Soutine's studio and bought more than fifty of his paintings (they are now all at the Barnes Foundation at Merion, near Philadelphia, Pa.). After this meeting in 1922, Soutine produced many oils, and his reputation spread to England and the United States. When World War ii broke out, he refused opportunities to go to the United States. After the Nazi invasion of France he was forced to hide in a small village in Touraine. The constant threat of being discovered made him ill with ulcers. In August 1943 a friend rushed him to a hospital in Paris where, after an operation, he died at the age of 50. Soutine never drew subject matters from memories of his early life in the ghetto. Instead, he portrayed the people, places, and scenes around him. He was an expressionist who rendered in violent color all the agony that he felt in his subject matter. He used paint in heavy impasto, and his colors, even more than his technique, betrayed his troubled mind. His canvases often remind one of bleeding, tortured flesh. Everything is broken, twisted, distorted. Even in his landscapes, there is a continuous cataclysmic movement. The body of his work consists of about six hundred oil paintings, many of which were acquired by museums all over the world.

bibliography:

A. Forge, Soutine (Eng., 1965); M. Tuchman, Chaim Soutine (Eng., 1968), catalog of exhibition (Los Angeles); R. Cogniat, Soutine (Fr., 1945); E. Szittya, Soutine et son temps (1955).

[Alfred Werner]