Exceptionally rare depictions of the artist’s studio in Montparnasse, L’Atelier de l’artiste à la cité Falguière and La Cité Falguière from the collection of Barbara and Ira Lipman are counted among Soutine's earliest landscapes.
Arriving in Paris in July 1913, Soutine settled into bohemian Montparnasse, home to the infamous artist colonies of La Ruche and the nearby Cité Falguière. The creative atmosphere as well as the privations must have felt familiar to Soutine, who had grown up in the shtetls of Lithuania. As described by Esti Dunow, his hometown of Smilovitchi was “a gray mass of ramshackle wooden houses… In the shtetl extremely high value was placed on emotional expressiveness and feeling. Students and former inhabitants of the shtetl constantly point to the texture of daily life as being full of energy, noise and agitation.” Although this early Paris chapter of Soutine’s career is legendary, indeed almost mythical, very little survives by way of paintings since he destroyed many of his own wartime canvases.
"Everything dances around me as in a landscape by Soutine.”
The artist to whom Soutine felt closest was Amedeo Modigliani, a sporadic resident of the Cité Falguière since 1909. These two Jewish painters had different backgrounds, different temperaments and artistic styles, and Modigliani was a good decade older, yet they became fast friends. Both were labeled peintres maudits and ended up in the same tenement. Modigliani admired Soutine’s work and took him under his wing in professional terms also, introducing him to his dealer Léopold Zborowski and to his most loyal sponsors, the Castaings. Soutine's wild and spontaneous painterly style was alien to Modigliani, who to describe his own state of inebriation once joked: "Everything dances around me as in a landscape by Soutine."
“There is no question at all regarding Soutine’s emotional investment in his work and the desperate ‘all-or-nothing’ premium he placed on expressive realization.”
It has been argued that the effect of Cézanne on Soutine gradually became more significant than virtually any other painter. Among his derivations from Cézanne, David Sylvester notes modeling by color rather than tone, breaking a form into clearly articulated planes and compressing solidity into flatness. Esti Dunow elaborates on this last characteristic: “Indeed, he did seem to learn a great deal from Cezanne’s way of severely constricting and enclosing space within which forms would be flatly imprisoned. In Cezanne the object is tilted upward to become parallel to the picture plane, and specific objects become distorted to accommodate the flattening of the ground” (Esti Dunow, Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943): Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Cologne, 1993, p. 18). It is revealing that this Cézannesque sense of special compression, of enclosure and tilted ground can be traced back as far as the Cité Falguière, his earliest known painting in Paris.
The Cité Falguière was a bohemian center of creativity, but the studios were also unheated, damp and for the most part lacking running water. In the 1960s the area was redeveloped to make way for residential buildings; of the original structures, Soutine’s studio at no.11 was one of the only ones to survive. The pair of landscapes from the Lipman collection are remarkable records of a uniquely important place and time not only for Soutine, but for his contemporaries and the subsequent generations who have drawn inspiration from the Montparnasse group; like so many of the original manuscripts and maps from the collection of Ira Lipman, these paintings document an extraordinary moment when history was in the making and revolution in the air.