Mr & Mrs Bernard J. Reis, New York (acquired by 1945)
Jacques Guerin, Paris (acquired between 1945 and until 1981
Philippe Reichenbach, Geneva (acquired by 1981)
Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above)
Sale: Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, New York, 7th May 2001, lot 37
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
New York, The Museum of Modern Art & Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Soutine, 1950-51, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1929)
Palm Beach, The Society of the Four Arts, Soutine, 1952, no. 26
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc., International Expressionism, 1968, no. 63, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1929)
New York, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Chaim Soutine 1893-1943, 1973, no. 57, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1928)
Montrouge, Centre Culturel et Artistique, XXXIe Salon, 1986, no. 20
Tokyo, Odakyu Museum; Nara, Nara Sogo Museum of Art; Ibaraki, Kasama Nichido Museum of Art & Hokkaido, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Chaim Soutine, Centenary Exhibition, 1992-93, no. 62, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna, Chaim Soutine, 1995, no. 69, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Maximilien Gauthier, Art Vivant, Paris, 15th May 1930, p. 417
Mademoiselle Garde, ‘Mes Années Soutine’, in L’Œil, no. 13, January 1956, illustrated p. 31
Pierre Courthion, Soutine, peintre du déchirant, Paris, 1972, no. D, illustrated p. 269 (titled Le Valet de chambre (Le Chasseur) and as dating from 1928)
R. Martin, ‘Chaim Soutine’, in Arts Magazine, New York, vol. 48, no. 1, September-October 1973, illustrated p. 51
Maurice Tuchman, Esti Dunow & Klaus Perls, Chaïm Soutine, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne, 1993, vol. II, no. 96, illustrated in colour p. 656
Whilst Soutine occasionally painted portraits of his friends, fellow artists, patrons and several self-portraits, he usually preferred to depict anonymous sitters. The people, whom the artist encountered in everyday life, were identified by their professions and uniforms, such as page boys (fig. 1), pastry chefs (fig. 2) and valets, as in the present work. This shift from portraying people from his own social circle towards less known figures parallels that of his close friend and fellow artist Amedeo Modigliani who, having left Paris and moved to the French Riviera, executed a number of portraits of children, peasants, servants and shop girls. Le Valet de chambre bears resemblance, for example, to Modigliani’s Le Garçon en culottes (fig. 4): both are portraits of unidentified boys, seated frontally in a similar plain interior, with mannerist, elongated facial features. Although both artists sought to emphasise the emotional, inner state of their sitters, Soutine’s boy, rendered in quick, sharp brushstrokes, reflects a sense of angst and unease, Modigliani’s portrait has a dreamy, melancholic atmosphere.
‘Soutine generally chose anonymous figures as models. But as much as his characters may become types, they never give up their identities as particular people. Soutine’s insistence on the physical particularity of his subject, together with this move towards more anonymous sitters, demonstrates his resistance to completely losing himself in the subjective aspects of the portrait experience. This resistance to a complete union between painter and model is also felt in the way Soutine’s figures “pose” before him and us, open to our penetrating scrutiny, but somehow indifferent to the artist’s presence […]. It is the tension between their seeming detachment, on the one hand, and an awareness of Soutine’s personal involvement with them, on the other, that heightens the expressive charge of these figures’ (ibid., pp. 509-510).
Although Soutine painted a wide range of sitters throughout his career, the formal arrangements of these portraits remained consistent: his sitters are usually rendered seated, occasionally standing, in half-length or three-quarter-length pose. These figures, often facing frontally and clothed in formal dress, create a sense of posing, rather than a spontaneously captured likeness. Le Valet de chambre is no exception: the boy is depicted frontally, facing the artist, dressed in his valet’s uniform. Another recurring feature is the elongated shape of the head, often with a long nose, large protruding ears and deep, expressive eyes. The background, painted in deep blue tones, is bare and does not offer any clues as to the surrounding in which the sitter is depicted. This deliberate lack of detail takes the viewer’s focus away from the potential narrative of the painting and centres our attention on the physical and emotional power of the portrait. The energy and expressive force of Le Valet de chambre is evocative of the angst-ridden self-portraits of Van Gogh, as well as of his depictions of semi-anonymous models the artist encountered in everyday life.
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