Classic Artist of the Week #13 - Chaim Soutine

You like tragic bohemian artists from the beginning of the twentieth century, don't you? There is certainly something about that time - the specific, somewhat enchanting Zeitgeist. Pride in poorness, rebellion against traditional art, debauchery, drugs and alcohol. We had all of that in the character of Modigliani, whom we featured last week - today's artist is a bit different.

Chaim Soutine was born in 1893 near Minsk, then a part of the Russian Empire. At the age of seventeen he began studying painting in Vilno and three years late he and two friends of his went to Paris to continue their search for art there. Of course, living in Montparnasse - there Soutine became friends with Modigliani and those two men often painted themselves. But unlike him and the most of other Parisian bohemians the Belarusan painter found people to buy his art - upon receiving a payment he ordered a taxi and went to Nice, approximately 200km from Paris. Because of his Jewish ancestry, during World War II Soutine often had to hide in forests in order to escape from the Nazis - where he got sick (not very hard when living in a forest). He died in 1943.

He was an expressionist - the thick impasto of his works drips with emotion and expression, both in portraits and landscapes. The landscapes evoke a variety of feelings - we instantly see the beauty of French countryside and cities, wonderful explosions of colour, but one the other hand, they seem more than simple representations of houses and fields. We think of people living there, their lives and stories. The portraits are also seemingly eerie - because, as Soutin seems to be saying - there's no need in his art to twist them into painful grimaces. The human existence is enough for the viewer to reflect on it, so special we ought to find it.

Ah, he also kept a rotting carcass in his apartment. If you ever had a roommate he seems normal now, doesn't he?

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