Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Soutine "l'écorché"

A painting at a time, lost in the permanent collection of a museum or on sale at an art fair, this is usually how Soutine is discovered. The Musee de L'Orangerie is offering a display of the artist's legacy with the exhibition Chaim Soutine, Order out of Chaos featuring the twenty-two works from the Paul Guillaume's collection as a starting point, complemented by works from other venues.

The exhibition is organized by themes and the visit starts with portraits. One of them is Soutine by Modigliani and a self-portrait made in 1918 shows the artist in front of a canvas. The other models, all well-known characters at the time, are frozen in a classical pose inspired by the paintings from the Old  Masters discovered by Soutine during his frequent visits at Le Louvre. They appear detached with an evasive look, hands crossed or flat on their lap, with prominent ears or noses, lips full of disdain. The colors of the clothes are bright, red, blue, green, yellow and contrast with the dark background. The paint applied with vigorous strokes delineates caricatured features.

In contrast, the landscapes assembled in the next room are vibrant, musical in their colors, all inspired by the South of France. The perspectives are skewed. Tortuous roads are climbing the hill or fall from the sky in a vertiginous plunge. Houses are alive, sometimes dark and twisted in threatening compositions or dancing with the wind. The result is a fairy tale like ambiance where even trees can become the central character like in Arbre Couché(Fallen Tree), 1923-24 or L'Arbre Bleu (The Big Blue Tree),1920-21. The empty landscapes are all about nature, inhabited by spirits, alive, full of emotions, influenced by Soutine's childhood memories from Lithuania where he was born.
Expressionism at its best, the paintings reflect the painter's emotions and feelings.

The Gladioli series are next, showing the painter's obsession with his subject. The rendering of the flowers becomes life itself.
Fishes, poultry, vegetables, still lifes are usually not my preferred subject. Rabbits, skates, turkeys...Soutine sill lifes are about suffering, decomposition, death. They reach an acme of violence with the series of Boeufs Ecorches (flayed beef). Inspired by Rembrandt, the paintings made in 1925 depict a slaughtered ox. In the process of  exposing  viscera, muscles, bones splashed in bright colors, red, orange, purple on the large canvas, the painter becomes the butcher and leaves his subject utter the ultimate scream he had been looking for.

The Figures, portraits of anonymous trade people are a testimony of the artist's social awareness. When painting  the pastry chef, the room service waiter, the chambermaid in the same pose than famous models, he provides them with a similar status. Furthermore, Soutine  let them display emotions and creates characters.

The last room is filled with more portraits, mainly females. The painter is merciless when dissecting the soul of his models and the caricatures are almost painful to look at, among them La Fiancée (The Bride), Vieille Femme (Old Woman), La Déchéance, 1920-21.

Now, one Soutine at a time...

No photographs allowed
Photograph Creative Commons
"Portrait of Soutine" by Modigliani, 1916

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