Summary of Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine is an Expressionist artist that lived and worked in Paris at the height of the modern era. Despite dominant trends toward abstraction, Soutine maintained a firm connection to recognizable subject matter. His innovation was in the way he chose to represent his subjects: with a thick impasto of paint covering the surface of the canvas, the palette, visible brushwork, and forms translated the artist's inner torment. As an expatriate Russian Jew living within Paris, with few friends beyond fellow artist Amedeo Modigliani, Soutine interpreted common themes with the eye of an outsider, further enhancing his unique perspective regarding his human subjects, landscapes, and still lifes and lending them a particular vanitas and poignancy. A prototypical wild artist, Soutine's temper and depression are both well documented and were poured into the paint he layered on the canvas. Soutine's body of work transcends the movements that dominated the avant-garde during his lifetime, expressing a clear personal and artistic vision that both looks back at historic themes as well as toward future modernist styles.
- Soutine looked to established masters like Rembrandt van Rijn and Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin for inspiration, often referencing subject matter from their paintings in his own work. However, although many of his paintings contain clear references to historic works, Soutine reinterpreted each theme, imbuing it with a drama and tension derived from his own complex emotions not present in the older work.
- A preoccupation with food dominates Soutine's vivid still lifes, with the focus placed on the bodies of animals used for food. The artist's complex relationship to food, with its prominent place in Jewish ritual as well as its scarcity in his youth and early career, lends the common vanitas theme a deeper, more personal meaning.
- Although labeled within art history as an Expressionist, Soutine's subjects and paintings are far from the typical urban angst commonly portrayed by German Expressionists. Instead, his unique mode of conveying his inner psyche through the manipulation of paint set a precedent that would reappear with the Abstract Expressionists.
- Soutine's early experience of religious persecution had a large influence throughout his life, on both his personality and his art. His personal experience of discrimination provided the fuel for his expressive rendering of common objects and themes. He filtered his angst into his brushstrokes and, practicing painting as an act of devotion, he provided many later Jewish artists with an early-20th-century role model.
Biography of Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine was born and raised in the small Jewish settlement of Smilavichy, near Minsk, in what is present-day Belarus. The tenth of 11 children, his father was a tailor and Soutine was raised under extremely modest means. His upbringing was fairly typical of Russian-born Jews during this era, who were forced to endure persecution and discrimination from a hostile government. Soutine's interest in drawing incurred opposition within his Orthodox family and the small community because of Talmudic proscriptions regarding images. According to an oft-recounted story, young Soutine was beaten in punishment after presenting a portrait to a rabbi. The suffering he experienced within the Jewish ghetto of his youth is believed to have worked its way into his later canvases.