Friday, February 13, 2015

Chaim Soutine, The Old Mill

Chaim Soutine, The Old Mill, c1923

Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) was a Russian-Jewish painter born in modern day Belarus.  He studied at the Vilna Academy of Fine Arts in Vilnius and then at the École des Beaux-Arts after he emigrated to Paris in 1913.  In Paris Soutine developed friendships with Amedeo Modigliani (who painted Soutine in 1916) and Marc Chagall.  Soutine's success grew in the early 1920s when he was championed by famed art dealer Paul Guillaume.  Guillaume arranged a large sale to American collector Albert C. Barnes, and Soutine, having disposable income for the first time in his life, immediately took a trip to the French Riviera.  Soutine painted many landscapesportraits, and still-lifes, but he is possibly best known for his series of ten paintings depicting a beef carcass.  Influenced by Rembrandt's explorations of the same subject, Soutine bought an animal carcass and left it hanging in his apartment for several days so that he could paint it.  When he saw the blood seeping out under Soutine's door, Chagall is said to have screamed that "Someone has killed Soutine".  The Old Mill is a landscape from the beginning of Soutine's most successful years.  Strongly influenced by Cezanne and Van Gogh, the painting's heavily abstracted forms and warped lines show the important place Soutine occupies in the development of Expressionism.  Coming from very similar circumstances, much of Soutine's work closely resembles Chagall's in both style and tone.  Both were born in Belarus and moved to Paris around the same time (though Chagall would move back to Russia before settling in Paris), and both draw on multiple European traditions––Impressionism and Expressionism to be sure, as well as elements of folk art and the influence of their Judaism.  After two decades of success and exhibitions in both Europe and the United States, Soutine fled Paris when the Nazis invaded and was forced to find haven in rural France, changing locations frequently.  Although he eluded Nazi capture, he developed a stomach ulcer and died at age 50 after risking his life to return to Paris for an operation.

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