The roughly two-hundred works from this prolific period reveal an artist at a pivotal moment in his career; one whose arresting projections and expressive bursts of color sometimes belie the careful research of his surroundings. Each canvas, whether of a hillside, home or religious building, explores a new angle or juxtaposition of its given subject, manifested in thick, vigorous and complex amalgams of paint.
Far from the Louvre and the wealth of masterworks which occupied his attention in Paris, Soutine began studying his environs and quickly developed a feverish passion for painting en plein air. The eccentric and often standoffish artist preferred to spend his days alone exploring the village and its seemingly endless views. Often dressed in the same pair of paint-covered overalls, Soutine reportedly spent hours each day traversing the landscape with canvases and brushes in hand.
It is from this fecund period that Vue de Céret arises. Painted circa 1922, toward the end of Soutine’s séjour, the present work’s bold and churning composition almost certainly depicts the landmark Saint-Pierre church (see fig. 3). A favorite subject of the artist, the towering edifice appears in a number of Soutine’s contemporaneous landscapes (see fig. 4), and remains one of Céret’s most salient landmarks.
Perched at the top right of the composition is the church’s vectoring bell tower, which rises just above its neighboring dome—a hexagonal structure which under Soutine’s brush melts into the surrounding trees. A frenetic dance of pigment, the landscape writhes upward from the bottom left of the canvas, straining toward the more placidly delineated construction.
Soutine renders a vast thicket of green and black, as if to serve a vegetal rampart around the church. The nearly impenetrable mass of greenery is cut through only by rivulets of gold, ochre and white, which achieve a painterly balance between the upper and lower segments of the canvas. Tempering the weight of the landscape is an unusually cheery sky. The surface of the work peeks out through light washes of indigo and emerald, warmed in places with pinks and yellows.
An astounding contortion of color and texture, Vue de Céret is accompanied by an equally distinguished provenance, having first belonged to sculptor Jacques Lipchitz. Like Modigliani, Lipchitz was a close friend and admirer of Soutine’s and an integral part of the École de Paris enclave who lived and worked at the La Ruche in Montparnasse. During the early twentieth century, the famous studio space also housed Chagall, Kisling, Archipenko and Léger, among other Modern masters.
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