Lot 185
  • 185


200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Chaïm Soutine
  • Le Poisson
  • signed Soutine (lower right)
  • oil on panel
  • 37.6 by 79cm., 14 1/2 by 31 1/8 in.
  • Painted circa 1933.
Executed circa 1933.


Lucien Lefebvre-Foinet, Paris (sale: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 17th January 1945, lot 149)
The Colin Collection, New York (purchased at the above sale)
Private Collection (by descent from the above; sale: Christie's, New York, 7th May 2014, lot 251)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


New York, Niveau Gallery, Soutine, 1944, no. 7 (dated 1926)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art & Ohio, Cleveland Museum of Art, Soutine, 1950-51, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue (titled Salmon)
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., The Colin Collection, 1960, no. 88, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paintings from Private Collections, Summer Loan Exhibitions, 1962, no. 89
New York, Malborough Gallery, Chaïm Soutine, 1973, no. 68, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, The Jewish Museum, Chaïm Soutine: Flesh, 2018


Rosamond Frost, 'In Memoriam, Soutine Over 20 Years' in Art News, October 1944, vol. 43, p. 14
Alexander Watt, 'Art Dealers of Paris, Mouradian and Vallotton' in Studio, May 1958, vol. 155, no. 782,  illustrated p. 147
Marcellin Castaing & Jean Leymarie, Soutine, Paris, 1963, no. XXXIII, illustrated in colour p. 30 (titled Le Saumon Bois)
Pierre Courthion, Soutine, Peintre du déchirant, Geneva, 1972, illustrated in colour p. 107 & illustrated p. 276E
Alfred Werner, Chaïm Soutine, London, 1978, no. 41, illustrated in colour p. 147 (titled The Salmon)
Esti Dunow, 'Die Stilleben Soutines', Chaïm Soutine (exhibition catalogue), Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Munich, 1981, n.n., illustrated p. 95 (titled Die Forelle)
Soutine (exhibition catalogue), Galleri Bellman, New York, 1983, p. 11
Francesco Porzio, Chaïm Soutine, I Dipinti della collezione Castaing (exhibition catalogue), Galleria Bergamini, Milan, 1987, illustrated in the catalogue (titled La Trota)
Maurice Tuchman, Esti Dunow & Klaus Perls, Chaïm Soutine, Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1993, vol. I, no. 114, illustrated in colour p. 492 & illustrated p. 347
Norman L. Kleeblatt & Kenneth E. Silver, An Expressionist in Paris, The Paintings of Chaim (exhibition catalogue), The Jewish Museum, New York, 1998, fig. 75, illustrated p. 143 (titled Fish)
Maurice Tuchman & Esti Dunow, The New Landscape, The New Still Life, Soutine and Modern Art (exhibition catalogue) New York, 2006, n.n., illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Please note that there is a professional condition report for this work, please contact mariella.salazar@sothebys.com to request a copy.
"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

Under Chaïm Soutine’s acutely perceptive gaze Le Poisson transforms traditional representations of a genre long believed to be aligned with academic conformity: the still-life. In Soutine’s remarkably animated rendering, expressive brushstrokes exhibit an intense vitality in his subjects: ‘Soutine looked for movement as soon as he placed the different objects in his still lifes’ (Rudy Chiappini (ed)., Chaïm Soutine, Milan, Lugano, 1995, p. 169). Soutine imbues Le Poisson with dynamism through rhythmically charged brushstrokes that conjure energy evocative of the creature’s once living state. The juxtaposition between subject matter and artistic execution is heightened by his startlingly skilful application of paint. With each still-life, Soutine studied his subjects in person with a fervent attention to detail. The liveliness inherent within the artist’s palatable representations derives from what has been described as: ‘Soutine’s obsessive, if not fanatical, attention to observation of reality’s details.’ (Rudy Chiappini (ed)., Chaïm Soutine, Milan, Lugano, 1995, p. 120). Were it not for the gaping yawn of the fish in the present work the sweeping lines could give the impression of the animal’s moving through water. The ambiguous, flat background upon which the fish is set against further confuses the notion of Le Poisson as a still life; as all spatial awareness is distorted the fish traverses the work’s surface as if through water.

A great admirer of Chardin and Courbet, Soutine drew inspiration from his artistic predecessors and amalgamated classical elements of the still-life genre, as favoured by the Old Masters, with the spatial and technical innovations of his contemporaries, such as Manet and Van Gogh. Soutine’s salmon is reminiscent of two works executed by Gustave Courbet titled The Trout. Whilst Courbet’s trout are captured in a moment of visible anguish, however, Soutine extracts his fish from the point of capture and deploys dramatic brushstrokes to articulate a sense of psychological torment. The very line of Soutine’s brush echoes the subject which he paints: ‘Soutine’s characteristic is not a line but a greasy smear left by some entrails’ (Maurice Tuchman, Chaïm Soutine, Catalogue Raisonne, Cologne, 1993, vol. I, p. 35). In Le Poisson Soutine boldly opines a radical reworking of a traditional subject matter relishing in the depiction of the raw and expressing the real in lieu of the glossy academic portrayals of a food removed from its reality. Soutine’s textural bravura elevates the still-life to a platform upon which human anxiety can be projected. 

Soutine’s representation of the still-life underwent a change following his return from Paris during the mid-1920s. Prior to this stylistic diversion Soutine had depicted food severed from its former animal existence, as can be seen in earlier works such as Carcass of beef (Albright Knox Gallery, New York). Painted circa 1933 Le Poisson is the first time that Soutine removes the fish from the setting of a meal and the animal becomes the sole focal point of the composition. Soutine’s development with the subject of the still-life has been described as ‘'an evolution in animal imagery,' He begins with the animate still-life images of food, moves to an increasingly isolated and spotlit focus on food, not as part of a meal-time setting, but as the animal in its slaughtered state. Finally, he moves to the animal itself as a natural living creature, Soutine has represented the full circle of life and death’ (Esti Dunow, An Expressionist in Paris: The Paintings of Chaïm Soutine, New York, 1998, p. 143). Le Poisson marks an important art historical turning point within the artist’s development as he reconceptualises the animal within a still life.

As Soutine’s focus drifted from a concern to represent food to a desire to represent the animal, his works adopted a heightened intensity of expression. The fish becomes a platform upon which Soutine can develop his psychological portraiture. As a Russian Jew living in Paris Soutine had few friends and his interpretation of the world around him became that of an outsider. His experience of religious discrimination caused Soutine to bleed feelings of anger and despair into the thick impasto of his canvases.  Possessing this ability to transform a traditional subject matter into self-expression Soutine’s Le Poisson sways between the ghastly and sensual appeal, portraying a harrowing reflection on subsistence and the trials Jewish people were subjected to on a daily basis. Food dominates much of Soutine’s œuvre due to the artist’s complex relationship with it, resulting from its prominent place in Jewish ritual. He developed a deeply unique perspective regarding his subjects and this, combined with his temper and bouts of depression, lend his paintings a poignancy and angst distinctive of his canon.