Lot 31
  • 31

Chaïm Soutine

6,500,000 - 8,500,000 GBP
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  • Chaïm Soutine
  • Le Valet de chambre
  • indistinctly signed Soutine (upper right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 72.7 by 46cm.
  • 28 5/8 by 18 1/8 in.


Pierre Loeb, Paris

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


Boston, Institute of Modern Art, Soutine, 1945, no. 41

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


Elie Faure, Soutine, Paris, 1929, no. 25, illustrated (titled Le Chasseur and as dating from 1928)

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


The canvas is lined. Apart from some very small spots of retouching at the framing edges, an area of retouching in the lower right corner and some fine lines of infilling to the jacket, visible under ultra-violet light, this work is in good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although brighter and more varied in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Portraying a young boy, only identified by his valet uniform, Le Valet de chambre epitomises Soutine’s portraiture of the middle and late 1920s, characterised by a great expressiveness of pose, rhythmically charged brushstrokes and strong colour contrasts. 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 a 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, op. cit., p. 509).

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.