The Captivating Expressionism of Chaïm Soutine

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At age twenty, Chaïm Soutine left his native Belarus in 1913 to participate in the new art movements springing up in Paris. Later identifying with the School of Paris, which comprised many foreign-born and Jewish artists, Soutine created his major works in France between the two World Wars. His paintings contain a depth of colour and emotion that is astonishing and moving, and would serve as a precursor of Abstract Expressionism. Sotheby’s is pleased to be offering several paintings from this master of expression in our upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening and Day sales. Click ahead to see these vibrant works while also discovering more about the artist.

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening
16 May | New York

Impressionist & Modern Art Day
17 May | New York

The Captivating Expressionism of Chaïm Soutine

  • Amedeo Modigliani, Chaïm Soutine, 1917. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
    As an expatriate Jewish artist in Paris, Soutine had few friends. When he was dismissed from the army brigade due to poor health, he moved into the artists’ studio complex at Cité Falguière, where Jacques Lipchitz, Oscar Miestchaninoff and Amedeo Modigliani also lived. Modigliani, well-liked and known in the community, would become Soutine’s close friend and advocate. The dealer Léopold Zborowski, who supported Modigliani at the time, would also take Soutine under his wing. When Albert C. Barnes, the American self-made millionaire and later founder of the Barnes Foundation, came to Paris to expand his collection in 1922, he was taken with Soutine’s paintings and bought every landscape Zborowski had in his gallery. This “discovery” would provide the impetus for Soutine’s international recognition. 

  • Chaïm Soutine, La Femme en rouge au fond bleu, circa 1928. Estimate $3,000,000–4,000,000. To be offered in Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale on 16 May in New York.
    While Soutine occasionally painted portraits of his friends, fellow artists, patrons and several self-portraits, he usually preferred to depict anonymous sitters, people whom the artist encountered in everyday life. The male sitters are more easily identified by their professions and uniforms, such as page boys, pastry chefs and valets, while the women are not so easily identified. La Femme en rouge au fond bleu exemplifies Soutine’s portraiture style after 1922, characterised by the highly expressive, dramatic use of colour and the distortion of the sitter’s body. 

  • Chaïm Soutine, La Vieille dame au chien, circa 1919. Estimate $1,200,000–1,800,000. To be offered in Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale on 16 May in New York.
    Monroe Wheeler writes of Soutine’s depictions of the human figure: “This is pure portraiture. He selects the salient features of these persons, their intensive gaze, outstanding ears, huge interworking hands, and renders them to excess with only summary indication of the body which he then cloaks in the magnificences of the palette. They are unforgettable” (M. Wheeler, Soutine, New York, 1950, p. 65).

  • Chaïm Soutine, Portrait de jeune fille (Paulette Jourdain), circa 1928. Estimate $400,000–600,000. To be offered in Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Day sale on 17 May in New York.
    In the present work, the sitter has been identified as Paulette Jourdain (1904-1997), who came to Paris in 1919 to work for the dealer Léopold Zborowski, first as a domestic servant before quickly becoming an assistant in his operations. Through him she would meet Soutine and help him on various projects. Jourdain would recall posing for Soutine, “…it was very difficult. He painted very slowly and wanted you not to move for two or three hours at a time. He would spend a whole day on one detail which he couldn’t successfully paint. He could take weeks to finish all the details on a portrait.”

  • Soutine and Paulette Jourdin posing with a dog outside a farmhouse in Le Blanc.
    The painting of Paulette Jourdain, show in the previous slide, was once in the famous collection of Marcellin and Madeleine Castaing. In 1925, the Castaings acquired their first Soutine from Zborowski. A subsequent visit to the artist’s studio heralded a lifelong friendship and association. Over time, the couple became Soutine's leading patrons, assembling a collection of over forty paintings that included many of the artist's finest.

  • © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    Chaïm Soutine, The Beef, circa 1925, Stedeljik Museum, Amsterdam.
    The height of Soutine’s reputation in America was marked by the posthumous retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1950. The critic Clement Greenberg would describe Soutine in 1951 as “one of the most painterly of painters.” This description is evident in the thickly applied and energetically handled oil paint that is at the center of Soutine’s art. 

  • Willem de Kooning, Untitled, circa 1966. Estimate $150,000–200,000. To be offered in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day sale on 19 May in New York.
    The way Soutine handled his materials has been seen as prophetic of the way Abstract Expressionists in New York, such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, would do so in the years to follow. 

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