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January 13: Chaim Soutine

January 13, 2015

suburban-landscape-with-red-housesThe prolific expressionist painter Chaim Soutine was born in Smilavichy, a town near Minsk (in modern-day Belarus) on this date in 1893. His interest in art was opposed by his Orthodox family and community, and he is said to have been beaten in punishment after presenting a rabbi his portrait. “The suffering he experienced within the Jewish ghetto of his youth is believed to have worked its way into his later canvases,” writes his biographer at Soutine studied art at the Vilna Academy of Fine Arts for three years before heading to Paris in 1913. “As an expatriate Russian Jew living within Paris, with few friends beyond fellow artist Amedeo Modigliani,” who painted his portrait several times, “Soutine interpreted common themes with the eye of an outsider.” As “a prototypical wild artist, Soutine’s temper and depression are both well documented and were poured into the paint he layered on the canvas.” He achieved little success with his thickly painted, wonderfully lopsided portraits and landscapes until American collector Albert C. Barnes bought sixty of Soutine’s paintings at one blow in 1923. Today Soutine is probably best known for a series of ten paintings of a beef carcass that he kept in his apartment, rotting, while he painted it ten times in 1924; in 2006, one of the series sold at auction for $13.7 million. After the Nazis entered France, Soutine moved from one place to another to dodge the Gestapo and was homeless for weeks at a time; he died of a perforated ulcer after emergency surgery in 1943.

painting1“Once I saw the village butcher slice the neck of a bird and drain the blood out of it. I wanted to cry out, but his joyful expression caught the sound in my throat. . . . This cry, I always feel it there. . . . When I painted the beef carcass it was still this cry that I wanted to liberate. I have still not succeeded.” —Chaim Soutine