"Don't worry, I'm leaving you Soutine."
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.
Soutine was barely 20 when he arrived in Paris in July 1913. Pinchus Kremegne, who had been at the Vilna Academy with him, was already living in La Ruche and brought Soutine into his circle, which included Chagall, Lipchitz, Léger and Kisling among others; not far from La Ruche was another set of ramshackle artist studios, the Cité Falguière, where Modigliani had painted sporadically since 1909. These two Jewish painters had different backgrounds, different temperaments and artistic styles, and Modigliani was a good decade older, yet they developed a close friendship, were both labeled peintres maudits and ended up in the same tenement. Modigliani admired Soutine’s work and introduced him not only to his dealer Léopold Zborowski but also to the Castaings, his most loyal sponsors. 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."
“One day I arrived around 11pm or midnight at the Cité Falguière. Modigliani had thrown away all the furniture because it had been infested with bedbugs. I entered…Modigliani and Soutine were lying on the floor. Of course, there was no light or gas. They held each a candle in their hands; Modigliani was reading Dante and Soutine, Le Petit Parisien.”
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. A rare record from this period, L’Atelier de l’artiste à la cité Falguière has been selected as the opening work in several prestigious Soutine exhibitions, including the 1950-51 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the 1973 exhibition in the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris. It was most recently on public view in the first gallery of the Soutine show Flesh at The Jewish Museum in New York in 2018, one of only two paintings that were not still lifes.
As Howard Schwartz noted in his review of the exhibition, the landscapes which date from the very beginning and the end of Soutine’s career “bookmark the other paintings in a poignant way” (Howard Schwartz, “The Amazing Flesh of Chaim Soutine,” in Daily Art Magazine, May 5, 2018, n.p.). Over the course of his career, Soutine’s focus moved from landscape to still life to portraiture and only toward the very end of his life did landscape again assert itself as a priority, as Esti Dunow states: “This shift of genre priorities is in itself a reflection of a striving for clarity and focus,” with landscape “particularly suited to Soutine’s immersion in his subject” (Maurice Tuchman, Esti Dunow & Klaus Perls, Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943): Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Cologne, 1993, p. 62).
The Cité Falguière is a cul-de-sac near Montparnasse in which low-cost studios had been constructed in the late nineteenth century on the initiative of the sculptor Jules-Ernest Bouillot; Paul Gauguin was one of the earliest to take up quarters there and Constantin Brancusi and Tsuguharu Foujita were later residents. The chimney which dominates the background of the present work belonged to the adjoining buildings of the Institut Pasteur, which played a critical role during World War I in issuing vaccinations for the troops against typhoid fever. The Institut Pasteur is still located next to the Cité but the chimney has since been demolished.
The contrast between the institute and the Cité Falguière could not have been more different; a bohemian center of creativity, the studios were also unheated, damp and lacking running water. In the 1960s the area was redeveloped, and the artist’s warren was mostly destroyed 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 Lipman collection, these paintings document an extraordinary moment when history was in the making and revolution in the air.