Biography of Chaim Soutine

Chaïm Soutine (January 13, 1893 – August 9, 1943) was a Jewish, expressionist painter from Belarus. He has been interpreted as both a forerunner of Abstract Expressionism and as a proponent of painting in the European tradition exemplified by the works of Rembrandt, Chardin, and Courbet.


Soutine was born in Smilavichy near Minsk, (modern day) Belarus (then part of the Russian Empire). He was the tenth of eleven children.

From 1910–1913 he studied in Vilnius at the Vilna Academy of Fine Arts. In 1913, with his friends Pinchus Kremegne (1890-1981), and Michel Kikoine (1892-1968), he emigrated to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Fernand Cormon. He soon developed a highly personal vision and painting technique.

For a time, he and his friends lived at La Ruche, a residence for struggling artists in Montparnasse, where he became friends with Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920). Modigliani painted Soutine's portrait several times, most famously in 1917, on a door of an apartment belonging to Léopold Zborowski (1889-1932), who was their art dealer. Zborowski supported Soutine through World War I, taking the struggling artist with him to Nice to escape the German bombing of Paris.

In 1923, the American collector Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951), visited his studio and immediately bought 60 of Soutine's paintings.

Soutine once horrified his neighbours by keeping an animal carcass in his studio so that he could paint it (Carcass of Beef). The stench drove them to send for the police, whom Soutine promptly lectured on the relative importance of art over hygiene. Soutine painted 10 works in this series, which have since became his most iconic. His carcass paintings were inspired by Rembrandt's still life of the same subject, which he discovered while studying the Old Masters in the Louvre. In February 2006, the oil painting of this series 'Le Boeuf Ecorche' (1924) sold for a record £7.8 million ($13.8 million) to an anonymous buyer at a Christies auction held in London - after it was estimated to fetch £4.8 million.

Soutine produced the majority of his works from 1920 to 1929. He seldom showed his works, but he did take part in the important exhibition The Origins and Development of International Independent Art held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in 1937 in Paris, where he was at last hailed as a great painter. Soon thereafter France was invaded by German troops. As a Jew, Soutine had to escape from the French capital and hide in order to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. He moved from one place to another and was sometimes forced to seek shelter in forests, sleeping outdoors. Suffering from a stomach ulcer and bleeding badly, he left a safe hiding place for Paris in order to undergo emergency surgery, which failed to save his life. On August 9, 1943, Chaim Soutine died of a perforated ulcer. Soutine was interred in Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.

References in Popular Culture--

The acclaimed writer, Roald Dahl, wrote the short story 'Skin' (published in The New Yorker on 17 May 1952) which featured a fictionalisation of Chaim Soutine. The story itself appears to be based on his painting 'Flayed Ox' and includes a reference to another painting of his that incorporated 'a clump of trees being blown by a strong wind'. The story incorporates some analysis of Soutine's painting style, including his reliance on the technique of 'impasto'.

The 2003 film Mona Lisa Smile starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, features the painting "Carcass" by Chaim Soutine - from his series of animal carcasses. Frustrated by the traditional survey lecture, Roberts shows her students Chaim Soutine's "Carcass of Beef" and asks them, "Is it any good?" It is the first in a series of confrontational lectures where she challenges her class to see beyond what they traditionally consider “art”.


In February 2006, an oil painting of his controversial and iconic series 'Le Boeuf Ecorche' (1924) sold for a record £7.8 million ($13.8 million) to an anonymous buyer at a Christie's auction held in London - after it was estimated to fetch £4.8 million.

In February 2007, a 1921 portrait of an unidentified man with a red scarf (L'Homme au Foulard Rouge) by Chaim Soutine sold for $17.2 million - a new record - at Sotheby's London auction house.


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