October 14, 2007

Chaim Soutine, Pinacotheque de Paris

Chaïm Soutine
Pinacothèque de Paris
October 10, 2007 - January 27, 2008

A central figure in the artworld, the least well-known and the most mysterious in his own generation of artists, Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) was the focus of a major exhibition in Paris for the first time in 33 years, in the Orangerie.

Chaim Soutine arrived in Paris in July 1913 and discovered a world far removed from his native Russia. He was very soon classified as a Jewish immigrant, as a typical artist of the Ecole de Paris, with all the prejudices that that entailed. Frequently regarded as no more than a follower, he was part of the Montparnasse legend thanks to his friendship with Modigliani, to whom he was extremely close.

It was while studying Soutine’s portrait by Modigliani that Marc Restellini decided to put on this exhibition. In that sublime portrait, he discovered that the handsome Italian endowed Soutine,  as discreetly as possible, with a religious symbolism by painting him with his left hand carrying out the Cohen’s benediction, that family of High priests in the Temple of Jerusalem. This deliberately secretive detail revealed an out-of-the common personality that might have escaped everyone but which Modigliani nonetheless wanted to immortalize, as though to confer a  mystical dimension on Soutine.

His exceptional personality led him to develop an artform that was misunderstood for a long while, marginalized, often linked to the notion of a difficult, unhealthy artist, on whom all the clichés of the ambient anti-Semitism were heaped, and which turned him into an outcast from his very first arrival in Paris. Like Modigliani, he had a most unusual career, wrapped in legends; a doomed artist, he died without having ever been fully appreciated in his lifetime. Even nowadays the only image left of Soutine is that of a Jewish immigrant bowed under the weight of all the taboos of an overly restrictive religion and whose physical appearance lent itself to every kind of antiSemitic cliché.

It was high time that a Parisian institution put an end to all these outdated notions and paid a deserved homage to this artist whom it is essential to rediscover.

This exhibition will show a brilliant artist, an inquisitor of souls and minds, through approximately 80 paintings, most of which are totally re-discovered works, exhibited for the very first time. Many canvases were restored for this occasion. The ensemble comes from the most important private collections as well as from international museums: French, Japanese, Swiss and American.

Through his use of portraiture, Soutine examined the personalities of his chosen sitters. He showed up their quintessential characteristics, and drew out of each of them what no other artist had perceived. He was quite rightly described as an Expressionist, and was the only one to have represented that movement in France, whereas it was the very basis of all the developing movements, be it in Germany and in Austria at the same period. A true visionary, he transcended reality to transform it into an imaginary representation about a century ahead of his time. On the cusp of several movements still in their infancy, he based his art on the most classical and the most illustrious of his fore-runners (Rembrandt, Courbet, Corot, Cézanne….) to become the major precursor of the greatest contemporary artists from Pollock to De Kooning. He was a reference for all of the Cobra movement, as well as for Bacon, whose pictorial powerfulness descends directly from Soutine. 

Today the Pinacothèque de Paris wants to throw a new light on the works by this essential artist from the start of the 20th century, thanks to loans shown for the first and, quite probably, the last time. 

The very well documented catalogue, will provide us with a closer look at all of the essential aspects that make up Soutine’s powerfulness and uniqueness: his links to Judaism, his critical heritage, his triangular relationship with Albert Barnes and Paul Guillaume which led him to fame and fortune, his artistic characteristics, as well as his cultural links with the past and the future, his passion for series like that of Monet, and his powers of anticipation. 

These many features will totally renew the look cast upon Chaim Soutine’s body of work that Jacqueline Munck, Sophie Krebs, Claudine Gramont and Marc Restellini aim to emphasize. 

Overall curator of the exhibition : Marc Restellini

Pinacothèque de Paris - 28, Place de la Madeleine  - 75008 Paris
Web site : www.pinacotheque.com

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