CHAÏM SOUTINE | La Femme au col rouge



La Femme au col rouge
signed Soutine (lower right)
oil on canvas
51.6 by 45.8cm., 20⅜ by 18in.
Painted circa 1929.

Price Available Upon Request

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Knoedler Galleries, New York (acquired by 1972)
Private Collection, London (acquired in 1998)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

Pierre Courthion, Soutine, Peintre du déchirant, Lausanne, 1972, illustrated p. 265 (titled Portrait de femme aux bras croisés and as dating from 1928)
Maurice Tuchman, Esti Dunow & Klaus Perls, Chaïm Soutine. Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1993, vol. II, no. 133, illustrated in colour p. 706

Painted circa 1929, La Femme au col rouge epitomizes Soutine’s portraiture of the middle and late 1920s; a period characterized by postural expressivity, rhythmically charged brushstrokes and bold colour contrasts.

Having suffered years of poverty and crippling anxiety, the 1920s marked a decisive turning point in the artist’s career when in 1922 the American Alfred Barnes purchased 52 of his canvases for his renowned collection. With this newfound success and financial security came unbridled access to the upper echelons of Parisian society. Soutine, however, looked to everyday people as his source of inspiration. His expressive and unconventional portraits captured the likenesses of those outside of fashionable society including pâtissiers, bellhops, maids and concierges. Soutine sought to capture the individual behind the type.

The anonymity of the sitter in La Femme au col rouge invites an investigation into the human psyche. The frenetic brushstrokes and heavily textured surface of the canvas creates a dynamic and animated composition heightening the sense of psychological anguish. The omission of any background detail pulls the sitter’s face into focus and her narrow, averted gaze, combined with pursed lips, forces a reconceptualization of painterly beauty. The visceral red of the eponymous collar brings out the deep pinks of the sitter’s flesh and this colour palette, applied with a rich impasto, draws attention to the sitter’s corporeality: ‘Like Caravaggio, who painted some of the most disturbing and beautiful pictures in the world, and whom these portraits call to mind, Soutine was interested in the agencies of the flesh. In the snarl of paint on the canvas, you can feel his hand on the brush’ (Cynthia Zarin, ‘The Time Travelling Portraits of Chaïm Soutine’ in The New Yorker, 21st March 2018). Soutine instils in La Femme au col rouge a powerful physical presence as well as a pervasive individuality.

In the present work Soutine pushes the boundaries of psychological portraiture, delving beneath the façade to the personality below. His friend and fellow artist Jacques Lipchitz reported that the sensations Soutine felt when trying to translate the authentic self to canvas were ‘so intense that he, on occasion, was found unconscious beside his painting’ (Jacques Lipchitz quoted in The Impact of Chaïm Soutine (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne, 2002). The highly textural canvases and depictions of raw sensuality that these painterly experiments culminated in would go on to influence and astound his contemporaries. Cited by Willem de Kooning as his favorite artist and widely attributed as the father of Abstract Expressionism, Soutine’s unique ability to reveal the beauty within the vernacular, as evidenced in La Femme au col rouge, set him apart from the rest of the Parisian avant-garde.

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