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Cover:  Woman in Red - Chaim Soutine 1923-4

 

 Chaim Soutine was born in 1893, the tenth of eleven children, in Smilovich, a Jewish town in the Lithuanian part of Russia. He went to Minsk in 1909 and to Paris in 1913 where he lived in La Ruche (The Beehive) in Montparnasse. At various times Leger, Chagall, Lipchitz and Modigliani all worked there.

Soutine was desperately poor. He did any work he could get to keep alive, loading railway vans at the Gare Montparnasse at night, working for Renault (he was sacked after one day for hopeless clumsiness) and digging ditches during the War. He was always ragingly hungry.

His tenacity before the subject was notorious: when he installed a whole ox carcass in his studio he went on painting it until the stench brought the police and the health authorities. Even then, he begged them to allow him to keep it a little longer, insisting that art was more important than sanitation.

In 1923 he was discovered by Albert C. Barnes who bought a large number of his canvases. This established his reputation with other collectors, and Soutine became prosperous.

In the 1930s Soutine's occasional fits of depression increased, and his productivity dropped. He had fallen out with many of his friends of less prosperous days, and some felt bitter about his ingratitude to them. In 1937 a large group of his paintings were included in the big official exhibition at the Petit-Palais, 'Exposition des Artistes Independants' - this was an honour of a kind then rarely given to a foreigner in France.

Under the German Occupation things became very dangerous since he was now a registered Jew. Friends provided him with hiding places and false identity cards. Anxiety aggravated Soutine's long-standing stomach problems and in August 1943 he suffered a severe ulcer attack. He was taken first to Chinon and then, by a circuitous route that took twenty-four hours, to Paris, where he was operated on for perforated ulcers and internal bleeding. The operation was too late, and he died on the operating table on 9 August 1943.

Lives of the Great 20C Artists Edward Lucie Smith