Chaim Soutine (1883-1943)

Portrait de Charlot

Chaim Soutine came from a large, poor family in Smilovitchi, a small town near Minsk in Lithuania. Despite the religious objections of his community to his plan to become an artist, Soutine left for Minsk in 1909, where he attended art school. From 1910 to 1913 he studied at the academy in Vilnius.

Chaim Soutine, Portrait de Charlot, circa 1937, Oil on canvas, Collection Triton FoundationIn 1913 the young artist then moved to Paris, where he found an apartment in the La Ruche complex in Montparnasse. Soutine took lessons at Cormon's studio, visited the Louvre, and became a passionate admirer of the old masters, including Rembrandt. He painted still lifes of food, cityscapes, and self-portraits in a raw, colourful expressionist style, while leading a solitary life of poverty and deprivation. When he met Amedeo Modigliani in 1915, a close friendship blossomed between the refined, self-confident Italian - who liked to introduce himself with the words 'I am Modigliani, Jew' - and the crude, clumsy Eastern European, who was often ashamed of his humble Jewish background. They became neighbours at the Cité Falguière studio complex, and Modigliani introduced Soutine to his art dealer, Leopold Zborowski, who bought some of the Lithuanian's work.

He was launched onto the international art market in 1922, when the American collector Albert Barnes purchased fifty-two of his paintings. That same year, he met the French collectors Marcellin and Madeleine Castaing, who became his firm friends. He was a welcome guest in the country house of the Castaing family in Lèves, where he painted family members, visitors and other subjects. In the years that followed, he painted startling landscapes in the Provence region, distorted portraits of choirboys, bellhops, and bakers' assistants, and bloody carcasses of cows, horses, and poultry, in expressive hues with an exuberant, sculptural use of paint. His work was exhibited frequently and rose in price.

Portrait of Charlot (c. 1937) is one of the forty works by Chaim Soutine that were originally in the collection of Marcellin and Madeleine Castaing. Its composition, the use of paint, and the colour scheme are characteristic of this period in Soutine's career. Fame and relative prosperity brought Chaim Soutine little contentment or happiness. Feelings of insecurity tormented him, and he suffered from ulcers. After the German occupation of France in 1940, he went into hiding in a series of provincia towns and villages. In August 1943, poor health compelled him to move back to Paris, where he died as a result of a failed stomach operation.