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Painter of the month - Chaim Soutine 1893-1943


Born Haim Sutin in Smilavichy in the Minsk Governorate of the Russian Empire (present day Belarus).

Soutine was the 10th of 11 children from a deeply religious, poor Jewish family.

Soutine was sent to Minsk to work as a photo editor.

Soutine was severely beaten by a rabbi’s son for secretly drawing a portrait of the rabbi, which is considered unacceptable in the Jewish tradition. Soutine was awarded 25 roubles from the rabbi’s family for the attack, an amount that made it possible for him to attend art school.

In 1913 Soutine arrived in Paris, the completely broke 20-year-old painter was full of hopes and expectations he found shelter in the bohemian area of Montparnasse “La Ruche” (French for the beehive). Soutine found himself surrounded with people of exceptional talent and creativity.

Soutine ‘The filthy’ named for his uncouth manners and poor personal hygiene shared an apartment with Modigliani.

Modigliani took Soutine under his wing, presenting him with a toothbrush and soap, supplying him with paint and canvases and introducing him to Leopold Zborowski, his art dealer.

Soutine would spend most of his time in the Louvre where he would study the old masters.

Soutine had a habit of working completely naked, not a whim but a simple lack of choice, as he only possessed one suit, which he didn’t wear while painting for fear of staining and ruining it.

There are many stories about Soutine’s bad temper and poor personal hygiene, among them one that a severe earache was found to be caused by a bedbug that had lodged in his ear and had to be removed by a doctor.

Another story about an animal carcass Soutine kept in his studio so he could paint (perhaps his most famous work inspired by Rembrandt’s still life of the same subject ‘Slaughtered Ox’. Soutine’s ‘Le Boeuf’ 1923 fetching a record price for the artist of $28,165,000 in 2015). The stench of the rotting carcass brought the police to his apartment, Soutine promptly lectured them on the relative importance of art over hygiene. The story continues with Marc Chagall seeing the blood from the carcass leaking out from under Soutine’s room, and rushing out screaming, “Someone has killed Soutine”.

Constant malnutrition and the consumption of alcohol resulted in acquiring an ulcer, which Soutine never forgave Modigliani for, for introducing him to alcohol.

In the early 1920’s, Soutine became fascinated by the cooks and waiting staff of French hotels and restaurants, attired in boldly coloured uniforms. Soutine painted several portraits of these uniformed workers, which attracted the wealthy American art collector Albert Barnes.

When Soutine became rich he was known to dine in top restaurants and order the most expensive food on the menu but due to his stomach ulcer was unable to eat it.

Soutine made a major contribution to the expressionist movement.

Soutine was a character in Roald Dahl’s short story ‘Skin’.

Soutine died from a perforated ulcer.

Soutine is buried among the famous in Montparnasse Cemetery Paris. Picasso attended Soutine’s funeral.

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