The highly mannered Le Rouquin (The Redhead)
is an important early portrait executed at the height of Soutine's Expressionist style. Although he is not formally identified, recent scholarship has suggested that the sitter for this work is possibly Frank Burty Haviland (1886-1971), the wealthy American painter, dealer and curator of the museum at Céret. Haviland was the brother of the photographer Paul B. Haviland, a prominent member of the Photo-Succession, and the grandson of the founder of the French porcelain company, Haviland & Compagnie. While a young man living in Paris before World War I, he befriended Picasso, Modigliani, Soutine and other artists of Montparnasse. Modigliani painted his portrait in 1914, and Soutine captures the prominent features of this dashing young man yet again in this picture. Early scholarship has suggested that Soutine painted this work around 1917. But given the probable identity of the sitter at the time at which the artist knew him, it is possible that Soutine painted this work as late as 1919.
Regardless of the age, social status, or the artist's personal involvement with the sitter, Soutine's portraits are imbued with a strong physical presence, as well as with the uniqueness and individuality of his subjects. As the authors of the Catalogue raisonné
of Soutine's work have commented: "While his portraits do convey inner realities and make spiritual statements, they are primarily rooted in concrete perception. Though Soutine may project his inner turbulence and most personal feelings onto his subjects, the viewer never loses sight of a particular physical entity being carefully observed and experienced. Even the distortions and exaggerations of facial features and the shiftings and dislocations of body parts do not destroy the essential recognition in each painting of a certain person and a reality specific to him or her" (M. Tuchman, E. Dunow & K. Perls, Chaïm Soutine, Catalogue raisonné,
Cologne, 1993, vol. II, p. 509).
Monroe Wheeler writes of the group of artists with whom Soutine mixed in Paris in the late 1910s, and of his character as an artist: "Soutine, Pascin, Utrillo and Modigliani - they have been grouped together as though violence of temper and proneness to trouble constituted a school of art. In France they are called Les peintres maudits - painters under a curse... Soutine was the least calamitous and least dissipated of the four, but perhaps the saddest. For as his art developed, it offered no distraction from his anxieties, animosities and self-reproach - no escape. Not that he intended any effect of autobiography by means of his art. But from an early age he used his hardship, pessimism and truculence to set a tragic tone for his painting, irrespective of its subject matter. Limiting the themes of his work to conventional categories - still life, landscape, portraiture and picturesque figure-painting - he would always charge his pictures with extreme implications of what he had in mind: violence of nature, universality of hunger, and a peculiar mingling of enthusiasm and antipathies" (Monroe Wheeler, Chaïm Soutine, New York, Museum of Modern Art (exhibition catalogue), 1950, p. 31).