'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, n.p.).
La Femme au col rouge
exemplifies the extraordinary talents of Chaim Soutine, one of the most innovative portraitists of the early twentieth century. Rather than seeking glamorous models of high social status, Soutine instead turned to everyday people as a source of inspiration for his most successful works. In his wildly expressive and oftentimes eccentric depictions of these figures, Soutine is able to transform the appearance of his models from the commonplace to the truly extraordinary. Painted circa
1929, the present work epitomizes Soutine's portraiture of the middle- and late- 1920s which is characterized by expressiveness of pose, rhythmically charged brushstrokes and strong colour contrasts.
After Soutine returned to Paris from Cagnes in the South of France in 1925, he was far from the destitute Lithuanian émigré who had arrived in Paris in 1913. Having long suffered with poverty and crippling anxiety, Soutine’s life was transformed in December of 1922 when the American Alfred Barnes purchased 52 of his canvases for his famed collection.
With success and financial security came unbridled access to the most fashionable characters of Paris, whom Soutine doggedly chose not to portray. Instead, he often turned to those that served the rich including patisseries, bellhops, maids, concierges, and various other service personnel. Through these depictions, Soutine challenged himself to capture the individual behind the type. Soutine felt an overwhelming intensity in all of his relationships and rarely painted his friends, or indeed himself at this period. His friend Jacques Lipchitz even reported that the sensations Soutine felt when depicting his peers were 'so intense that he, on occasion, was found unconscious beside his painting' (quoted in The Impact of Chaim Soutine
(exhibition catalogue), Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne, 2002, p. 81). Regardless of their age, social status, or the artist's personal involvement with the sitter, Soutine’s portraits from this period are indelibly imbued with a strong physical presence, as well as a pervasive individuality.
Soutine’s portraits reveal a deep investigation of the human type, typified in La Femme au col rouge. The anonymous woman depicted in the present work conveys an air of psychological anguish as her narrowed gaze meets the viewer, her lips pursed. As noted by the journalist Cynthia Zarin: '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, n.p.). In the case of the present work, this is perhaps most notable in the use of sumptuous flecks of lavender, enlivening the sitter's puckered gnarl, her expressive arms crossed with an apparent and somewhat defensive disdain for the world around her.
Soutine yearned to deliver not just the likeness of his subject, but the more meaningful ethos of the sitter before him. 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' (Maurice Tuchman, Esti Dunow & Klaus Perls, op. cit., p. 509).
Soutine's œuvre astounded his contemporaries in their textural bravura and focus on the sensual beauty of unusual subjects. Cited by Willem de Kooning as his favorite artist and widely attributed as the father of Abstract Expressionism, Soutine was able to invest vernacular subjects with a raw beauty that set ultimately him apart from the rest of the Parisian avant-garde.